Tag: Liam Byrne

Work Programme continues to harm people with mental health problems

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The Government’s Work Programme is making the lives of people with mental health problems worse, and having a detrimental impact on people’s ability to work, research by a leading mental health charity has found.

A report from Mind said the flagship scheme, which requires people to take unpaid work allocated by contractors or face losing their lifeline benefits, was taking entirely the wrong approach and actually damaging people’s motivation and capacity to work.

The research found that most people who are on the scheme because of their mental health problems reported worsening health issues due to their experiences of it.

83 per cent of people surveyed said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse or much worse.

The latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that less than 8 per cent of people being supported by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have moved into employment through the Work Programme. Around half of people on ESA are being supported primarily because of their mental health problems.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“These latest figures provide further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme. A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned.”

Even more worryingly, the majority of respondents to our survey said the Work Programme was actually making their health worse, and as a result they had needed more support from health services and felt further from work than previously. Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”

Additionally, over three quarters of people – 76 per cent – said the Work Programme had actually made them feel less able to work than before they were coerced to participate in the scheme.

The results resonate with figures released in a number of previous years suggesting that people on the Work Programme are actually far less likely to return to work than people who are simply left to their own initiative.

In the first year of the £450 million programme, just two out of 100 people on the scheme returned to work for more than six months.

In 2013 Labour’s then shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne described the scheme as “literally worse than doing nothing”.

Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer wrote:

“Cutting someone’s support for failing to meet certain requirements causes not just financial problems but a great deal of psychological distress too.

Mind was one of a group of six mental health organisations to respond to a Work and Pensions Committee Welfare to Work inquiry within which we voiced concerns with the system and made a number of recommendations for improving benefits and back-to-work support. A number of schemes deliver far more effective support to people with mental health problems, at a fraction of the cost of the Work Programme.

WorkPlace Leeds, for example, delivered by Leeds Mind, costs much less than the Work Programme and achieves far better outcomes, with nearly a third (32 per cent) of people with severe and enduring mental health problems gaining paid employment. Schemes such as these are far more helpful and effective in supporting those ready and able to work into fulfilling, appropriate paid employment, relevant to their individual skills and ambitions.

We wholeheartedly support the Government’s aspiration to halve the disability employment gap by helping a million more disabled people into work. However, this will only happen if bold changes are made. As the Welfare Reform and Work Bill makes its way through Parliament, Mind is calling on Employment Minister Priti Patel to overhaul the benefits system, by focusing less on pressurising people and investing more in tailored, personalised support. We’re calling for everyone with mental health problems on the Work Programme to be taken out of this scheme, and instead given alternative support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges they face in getting and keeping a job.”

There are perverse political incentives for pushing people onto workfare programmes. The DWP has simplified its performance measures and now primarily targets the move by claimants away from benefits, or “off-flow”, as a simple and intuitive measure of performance. However, this gives no information about how individual jobcentres perform in supporting claimants to work. Some may have found work but, in more than 40 per cent of cases, the reason for moving off benefits is not actually recorded.

The government does not track or follow up the destination of all those leaving the benefit system, and so the off-flow figures will inevitably include many having their claim ended for reasons other than securing employment, including sanctions, awaiting mandatory review, appeal, death, hospitalisation, imprisonment, on a government “training scheme” (see consent.me.uk  and the Telegraph – those on workfare are counted as employed by the Labour Force Survey, which informs government “employment” statistics.)

Workfare programmes offer further opportunity for imposing sanctions, too. Last year, Iain Duncan Smith met a whistle-blower who has worked for his Department for Work and Pensions for more than 20 years. Giving the Secretary of State a dossier of evidence, the former Jobcentre Plus adviser told him of the development of a “brutal and bullying” culture of “setting claimants up to fail”.

“The pressure to sanction customers was constant,” he said. “It led to people being stitched-up on a daily basis.”

The whistle-blower wished to remain anonymous but gave his details to Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister Esther McVey and Neil Couling, Head of Jobcentre Plus, who also attended the meeting.

“We were constantly told ‘agitate the customer’ and that ‘any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to ­sanction’,”  he told them. 

Iain Duncan Smith and his department have repeatedly denied there are targets for sanctions.

“They don’t always call them targets, they call them ‘expectations’ that you will refer people’s benefits to the decision maker,”  the whistle-blower says. “It’s the same thing.”

He said that managers fraudulently altered claimants’ records, adding: “Managers would change people’s appointments without telling them. The appointment wouldn’t arrive in time in the post so they would miss it and have to be sanctioned. That’s fraud. The customer fails to attend. Their claim is closed. It’s called ‘off-flow’ – they come off the statistics. Unemployment has dropped. They are being stitched up.”

The Department of Work and Pensions no longer meets the needs of people requiring support to find work. Instead it serves only the requirements of an ideologically-driven, irrational and authoritarian government.

 

Related

The Government are under fire for massaging employment statistics

A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Quantitative Data on Poverty from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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The minimum cost of living has soared by a quarter – 25% – since the start of the economic downturn, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which details the true inflationary pressures facing low income households. The research finds families are facing an “unprecedented erosion of household living standards” thanks to rapid inflation and flat-lining wages.

Cuts to benefits and tax credits have exacerbated the problem over the past 12 months, according to the report. Now we are seeing the hard evidence that the Coalition’s “reforms” are pushing employed people in low paid work and unemployed people into absolute poverty, as our welfare system is no longer meeting basic living needs, and Government policy has distorted the original purpose of our social security, using rhetoric about costs to “the tax payer”, whilst carefully excluding the fact from their monologue that most benefit recipients are also tax payers.

A frightening consideration is that this report doesn’t include the latest round of benefit cuts – the very worst of them to date – that were implemented in April of this year. The report was produced prior to then, covering the period up to April, but doesn’t include it.

A quarter of households in the UK already fell short of the income required to reach an adequate standard of living – for them a 25% increase in costs intensifies the everyday struggle to make ends meet. The price of food and goods we need for an acceptable living standard has risen far faster than average inflation. This has combined with low pay increases to create a widening gap between income and needs.

The freeze in child benefit, the decision to uprate tax credits by just 1% and the increase in the cost of essentials faster than inflation mean that a working couples with children an  working lone parents will lose out, making a mockery of the Coalition’s claim of “making work pay”.

Over the past five years:

• Childcare costs have risen over twice as fast as inflation at 37%.
• Rent in social housing has gone up by 26%.
• Food costs have increased by 24%.
• Energy costs are 39% more.
• Public transport is up by 30%.

Some further shocking Key findings from the Poverty and Social Exclusion Project – The Impoverishment of the UK report reveals that:

• Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity.
• Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions.
• Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods.
• Almost 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population.
• About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing.
• Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards.
• Almost 4 million children go without at least two of the things they need;
• Around 2.5 million children live in homes that are damp.
• Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.

Since 2010, wages have been rising more slowly than prices, and over the past 12 months, incomes have been further eroded by cuts to benefits and tax credits. Ministers argue that the raising of the personal tax allowance to £10, 000 for low income households will help, however, the report says its effect is cancelled out by cuts and rising living costs.

I would add that for many who are low paid, and the increasing numbers of part-time workers, this political gesturing is meaningless. The policy only benefits those who earn enough to pay tax. Most of this group are affected by the benefit cuts – many have to claim housing benefit and council tax benefit, and they are therefore likely to be affected by the bedroom tax and the poll tax-styled reductions to benefits under the Localism Bill, to compound matters.

It has to be said that the greatest percentage change in net income from the personal tax free allowance of £10,000 is seen by those on the upper end of the income scale – not, as is often claimed, low earners. This does explain the policy. Increasing the personal allowance serves to increase the gap between the those on the lowest incomes and those on  middle range incomes, resulting in low income households falling further into poverty.

At the low paid end of salaried work there are a cohort of workers trapped in a cycle of very poorly paid, low – skilled work, zero hour contracts, with few, if any, employee rights. They tend to work for a few months here and there, in work that is often seasonal. There is no opportunity for saving money or hope of better employment prospects.

This group of workers tend to live hand to mouth from one pay day to the next, so have no opportunity to build a reserve when the contract ends, there is nothing in reserve.

The net result is that it is increasingly very difficult for low-to-middle income families to balance the weekly budget. There is now a widening gulf between public expectations of a minimum decent living standard and their ability to earn enough to meet it. I would add that the gap between low and middle income families is widening, and will continue to do so because of the impact of policies that have recently been implemented.

Welfare support is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have such support for the vulnerable, and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. Most of us have paid for our own welfare.

It’s a common rhetorical trick for politicians is to talk about “looking after the tax payer.” However the reality is that they are often only really concerned with particular tax payers – the electoral groups that determine the outcomes of elections – often people on middle-incomes. They talk as if tax payers are some hard-pressed group who are burdened by the poor and that the rest of us don’t pay taxes.

But the reality is that there are many different taxes (the Institute of Fiscal Studies counted at least 25). Also the poorest people don’t just pay tax, they often pay the most tax. Not just indirect taxes, like VAT, but also income tax and council tax. Many other taxes are hidden from view in duties or other background taxes like Employer’s National Insurance.

Most assume that the rich pay a much higher rate of tax than the poor. After all the income tax system is meant to place progressively higher burdens on people with higher incomes. However, when you look at the rates of tax paid by each household it is very surprising.

The highest rate of tax, that is the share of income lost in tax, is paid by the poorest 10% of households (or families). The poorest 10% of families pay 45% of their income in tax. The other 90% of families pay quite a similar rates of tax, varying between 31% and 35%.

The three things to remember when politicians talk about tax:

1. Tax payers are not a special class of people – we are all tax payers.
2. Tax payers are not burdened by the poor – the poor are actually super tax payers.
3. Tax cuts come in many different shapes and sizes – not everybody benefits equally. The wealthiest profit the most.

(Information taken from here)

Office for National Statistics logo 

Statisticians hold two basic definitions of poverty – relative poverty is a measure which looks at those well below the median average of income (60% of income) – who are excluded from participating in what society generally regards as normal activities. This kind of poverty is relative to the rest of society, and is the type that we have seen and measured since the welfare state came into being.

Absolute poverty refers to a level of poverty beyond the ability to afford the essentials which we need simply to live and survive. People in absolute poverty cannot afford some of the basic requirements that are essential for survival. It is horrifying that this is now the fastest growing type of poverty in Britain, according to research bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  When the IFS produced its report on growing child poverty, David Cameron’s callous, calculated  and unflinching reaction was to question the figures, rather than accept the consequences of his Government policies on citizens.

And it IS calculated and deliberate legislative spite. The Government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated that the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.

According to a TUC report, average wages have dropped by 7.5 per cent since the Coalition came into office. This has a direct impact on child poverty statistics, which the government has conveniently ignored in its latest, Iain Duncan Smith-endorsed, child poverty figures.

Child poverty is calculated in relation to median incomes – the average income earned by people in the UK.

If incomes drop, so does the number of children deemed to be in poverty, even though – in fact – more families are struggling to make ends meet with less money to do so.

This is why the Department for Work and Pensions has been able to sound an announcement that child poverty in “workless” families (which translates from Tory propaganda-speak to “victims of the Government- induced recession”) has dropped, even though we can all see that this is nonsense.

As average incomes drop, the amount received by  families not in work – taken as an average of what’s left – appears to rise, even though, as we know, the increase is not even keeping up with inflation any more.

Liam Byrne said: “The Institute of Fiscal Studies report shows that the price of ministers’ failure on child poverty isn’t just a million more children growing up poor – it’s a gigantic £35 billion bill for the tax payer. It’s not just a moral failure, but an economic disaster.”

“Ministers should be doing everything they can for struggling families but instead they are slashing working families’ tax credits whilst handing a massive tax cut to the richest people in the country. That tells you all you need to know about this Government’s priorities.”

And – “Not only is there a cost attached to rising levels of child poverty but the trend is illegal. Left unabated child poverty will reach 24% in 2020, compared with the goal of 10% written in law.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare and pensions secretary, has publicly questioned whether poverty targets are useful – arguing that “feckless” parents only spend money on themselves. The spirits of Samuel Smiles, Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo, they of the workhouse mentality, speak clearly in booming voices through Iain Duncan Smith from across the centuries.

And of course the Department for Work and Pensions ludicrously continue to blame the previous Administration. We know, however, that the research here shows starkly that poverty has risen under this Government, and we are now seeing cases of childhood malnutrition, such as scurvy.

The breakfast clubs established under the previous Labour Government, as a part of the Extending Schools program and Every Child Matters Bill often provided crucial meals, particularly  for children who relied on school provision  – in fact, for one in four of all UK children, school dinners are their only source of hot food. Malnutrition is rising and schools see children coming in hungry.

The previous Government recognised the importance of adequate nutrition and saw  the link between low educational attainment, behavioural difficulties and hunger in school. The breakfast club provision also helped parents on low incomes in other ways, for example, the free childcare that these wrap-around services provided is essential to support them to keep on working.

There are further issues worth a mention from Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review, that are not in the report. They are worth a mention not least because they tell you all you need to know about the Coalition. They speak volumes about Tory-led intention, malice and despicable aims. They expose the lie once again that the Tories “support” the most vulnerable citizens.

I’m very concerned about Osborne’s plans to set a cap on benefits spending. This cap will include disability benefits, but exclude spending on the state pension. Disabled people have already faced over £9 billion of cuts to benefits they rely on, with at least 600,000 fewer expected to qualify for the new Personal Independence Payment, which is replacing disability living allowance, and over 400,000 facing cuts to their housing benefit through the bedroom tax. Disabled people of working age have borne the brunt of cuts, and the Government is once again targeting those who can least afford to lose out.

By including “Disability Benefits” in the cap, the Government have signalled clearly that they fully intend severing any remaining link between social security and need. We are hurtling toward a system that is about eradicating the cost of any social need. But taxation hasn’t stopped, however, public services and provisions are shrinking.

Barely a month now passes without one of David Cameron’s ministers being rebuked for some act of statistical chicanery (or, indeed, the Prime Minister himself). And it’s not just the number crunchers at the UK Statistics Authority who are concerned. An alliance of 11 churches, including the Methodist Church, the Quakers and the Church of Scotland, has written to Cameron demanding “an apology on behalf of the Government for misrepresenting the poor.”

Many people have ended their lives. Many people have died because of the sustained attack from our Government on them both psychologically and materially, via what ought to be unacceptable, untenable and   socially unconscionable policies. People are going without food. People are becoming homeless. There are people now living in caves around Stockport The UK is the world’s six largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below the official poverty line, this means that they experience life as a daily struggle for survival.

And this is because of the changes this Government is making. And we are allowing them to do so. Unless we can form a coalition with other social groups in our society, we are unlikely to influence or produce enduring, positive political change. But that will only happen once others realise that they are not exempt from the devastating changes, or the long term consequences of them. It’s down to us to ensure that the public are informed, since the maintream media have abdicated that responsibility.

The author of the Joseph Rountree Foundation report, Donald Hirsch, says the cumulative effect is historically significant:

From this April, for the first time since the 1930s, benefits are being cut in real terms by not being linked to inflation. This combined with falling real wages means that the next election is likely to be the first since 1931 when living standards are lower than at the last one.”

Further reading:

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted

Who Really Benefits from Welfare?

  • The system make little difference to the incomes of the poorest
  • People in poverty pay the highest rates of tax
  • It is hardest for the poorest to earn, save and be a family
  • Most money actually goes to the better-off.

    (This article was taken from a longer piece of work: Poverty and Patrimony – the Evil Legacy of the Tories.)

1017174_500690710000462_512008904_nThanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant artwork

The Labour Party address welfare wrongs with human rights and strong equality principles.

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The Labour Party have always supported cumulative and equality impact assessments, and embedded this practice in their own legislative process. I know this because it was an issue I raised in discussion with Anne McGuire last year, I was very aware that the welfare reforms had not undergone such essential cumulative impact assessment. And now we are seeing the devastating impacts of those “reforms”.

Impact assessments were enshrined in Labour’s Equality Act, implemented in 2010. This issue is something that I have felt very strongly about, not least because equality and cumulative impact assessments are a positive way of safeguarding our most fundamental human rights. They also assure fairness and  safety, and ensure that people’s circumstances are not made worse by policies.

Impact assessments are intended to ensure that neither discrimination nor adverse treatment to people from different groups occurs based on age, race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, transgender, pregnancy and maternity, socio-economic status, marriage and civil partnership and other groups who may experience disparities in opportunity. Where there is any identified potential for discrimination or adverse treatment, action plans will be created to counter this and demonstrate that the equality impact assessment process is leading to positive change. This is a legal requirement.

Labour have recognised it is disabled people and the most vulnerable who bear a disproportionate share of the austerity cuts, simply because of the inequality they face in employment, which means they are more likely to rely on benefits. In other words they are facing a double penalty simply because of their characteristics – disadvantaged in the (now somewhat limited) labour market and now targeted by benefit “reform”. (Cuts). This also raises further concern about human rights, since this Coalition action constitutes discrimination on the basis of “characteristics”, in accordance  with Labour’s Equality Act.

The general duty to perform equality impact assessments applies across the full range of our public activities. This means that the duty applies to policy-making, budget setting, developing high level strategies, plans, procedures, reports, business cases, service provision, employment matters, and enforcement or statutory discretion and decision-making. Essentially, it applies to everything we do.  It also applies to our functions in relation to procurement and contracting out services. In addition, the duty applies to private and voluntary bodies carrying out our public functions on our behalf.

However, under the Equality Act, the need for public bodies in England to undertake or publish an equality impact assessment (EIA) of their policies, practices and decisions was removed in April 2011 by the Tory-led Coalition, when the “single equality duty” was introduced. Public bodies must still give “due regard” to the need to avoid discrimination and promote equality of opportunity for all protected groups when making policy decisions. They are also required to publish information showing how they are complying with this duty – but can do that…

“…without having to carry out lengthy and detailed impact assessments.” –  David Cameron

Although the Government have produced some perfunctory impact assessment of each individual policy strand of the welfare “reforms”,  these documents are useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because they give us – the media, policy analysts and anyone else caring to look at them – the impression that we know what the impact of the Government’s welfare reform agenda will be. But we don’t. And the Government doesn’t either. This is due to the fragmented nature of our welfare system –  many people claim more than one benefit and tax credit at a time.

As a result, the impact of the Government’s plan to cut several benefits in several ways will inevitably affect some households repeatedly. The Government’s impact assessments only consider each cut in isolation, and cannot quantify this cumulative effect. And so the government had identified dozens of individual groups who will experience a reduction in income, but gave no indication if they are actually identifying the same group over and over again. We now know that it IS the same group that has been hit by multiple cuts. Thousands of disabled people have been hit by as many as six welfare cuts simultaneously.

We do know from “Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted” by Dr Simon Duffy that if we compare the relative targeting of the welfare cuts on different groups then:

  • People in poverty are targeted 5 times more than most citizens
  • Disabled people are targeted 9 times more than most citizens
  • People needing social care are targeted 19 times more than most citizens

For anyone, this represents the loss of substantial sums of money, essential for meeting fundamental needs. But for disabled people struggling with spiralling costs of living, and the withdrawal of public services  and support also, such multiple financial losses are life-changing and devastating.

Individual impact assessments are utilised when making a single policy change here and there, but when dozens of changes are made simultaneously – 18 impact assessments were issued for the Welfare Reform Bill alone – this piecemeal approach is both inadequate and very misleading.

Each impact assessment identifies a relatively small amount of money shared across a large group. On the face of it, reading them, one might conclude that the cuts are being widely and fairly spread. But the reality is that three, four, or more losses affect a single person. This is the case for hundreds of thousands of people across the country. How can we evaluate the fairness of such a comprehensive package of cuts when its the case that the assessments have provided no real overview of who will be affected, and to what extent? We can not. That was very clearly the aim.

Reading though the Tory-led “equality impact assessment” for universal credit, I can say that the emphasis is strictly on justifying the legislation, and utilises Coalition propaganda, and glib, superficial assurances such as “there will be significant opportunities to promote equality for disabled people through improving work incentives and smoothing the transition into  work”, without any explanation as to how this will be achieved. And of course we know that “work incentives” are actually punitive measures, including the use of sanctions, rather than support offered in any meaningful and real way.

And only the Tories would have the utter mendacity to claim that benefit CUTS will contribute to a reduction in the poverty rate amongst disabled households. We know that this is a very blatant lie. It doesn’t take any degree of genius to work that out, either

I have written to the Labour Party to raise my own concerns about the Coalition’s abandonment of effective impact assessments, as a means of protecting human rights and as a way of ensuring that policies are fair, safe, none discriminatory and democratic. I know many others have also campaigned regarding this important issue.

I have had the following response from Liam Byrne:  

“Dear Susan,

Time to come clean.

After more than three years in power, it’s time for this Government to finally come clean and tell us exactly what impact their changes will have on the lives of disabled people and their carers. So on Wednesday 10 July, Labour will drag Ministers to the House of Commons to debate the changes they have made that affect disabled people, and at about 16:00 we will force a vote to demand a Cumulative Impact Assessment by October 2013 at the latest – and we will be calling on MPs from across the House to support it.

I am asking supporters to help build pressure on the government in three ways:

  • Write to your MP and ask them to back the motion
  • Write to your local paper and explain why we urgently need a cumulative impact assessment
  • Tweet your support using #MakeRightsReality

    Here is the link to the motion – 
    http://liambyrne.co.uk/?p=4534

This government is failing to support our disabled people. It’s time for Ministers to come clean, admit where they are getting things wrong and change course.

It’s time to start making rights a reality for disabled people.

Please forward this email to anyone who might be interested.

This is the motion in full:

That this House believes that the Government should publish a cumulative impact assessment of the changes made by this Government that affect disabled people (to be published by October 2013).

Yours,

Liam Byrne”.

Please support this move, by pressuring your MP, and by publicising the need for a cumulative impact assessment, and emphasising the crucial role it has in democratic process, as a way of ensuring policies are fair and safe, and as a fundamental safeguard of our human rights.

Further reading:

Osborne ‘forgets’ to assess impact of benefits cap on disabled people



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Thank you to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work.

No value in empty gestures: a retrospective analysis of Labour’s response to the the retrospective Sanctions Bill

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A few months ago, two young workers at Poundland appealed to the courts against being forced to work for no wages, or else forfeit all their benefits. A court ruling deemed the regulations governing Job Seekers Allowance related sanctions imposed on claimants Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson unlawful, and therefore opened up opportunities to claimants having repayment of lost benefits. There were around 230,000 people – other previously sanctioned jobseekers, which means a total of  around £130 million may have reclaimed.

The Tories quickly wrote an Emergency Bill to retrospectively make those same regulations lawful. This was a shocking and tyrannical move that certainly contravenes human rights, and needs to be challenged under EU Human Rights legislation, and hopefully this will come to pass when Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson take their case further, to the Supreme Court.

However many people have criticised the Labour Party for its decision of abstaining from the vote on the Emergency Bill. It’s worth noting here that such a move is not the same thing as “supporting” the Tories regarding the Emergency Bill – as the Guardian misreported. Had the Labour Party supported the move by Ian Duncan Smith, they would have voted for the Bill. However, they did not.

Crucially, this two-clause Bill outlined that the same rules would apply as before, as if the case made by the two Poundland workers had never been brought forward.

This is of course objectionable on several grounds. It was retrospective in application, which as always been a cardinal principle of English law should be avoided. It set an appalling precedent that when the courts had struck down a law or regulation as having failed in due process, it could simply be overturned by Government without any proper regard being given to the court’s reasoning or argument for reform.

However, “A leaked email shows staff being warned by managers that they will be disciplined unless they increase the number of claimants referred to a tougher benefit regime.” The Guardian 

That’s something which has been persistently denied by Tory Ministers – but it is something which the Labour Party’s initiated review of sanctions will now strive to get to the bottom of. Well done Labour.

“This is why we took difficult decisions on the Jobseekers’ Bill to secure an independent review of sanctions. We knew there were sanctions targets and now we’ve secured an independent report to Parliament to put right a regime in Job Centres that’s running out of control.” Liam Byrne. 

Many Labour MPs – including front benchers – were aware of the whistle-blowing case before the vote, which was one of the main factors in the decision to abstain from voting.

Labour’s decision to abstain from voting on the Emergency Bill resulted in an unprecedented rage and knee-jerk responses from so many on the Left, and the situation was not helped by the fact that the media did not publish Labour’s press releases on the matter, the crass misrepresentation of Labour’s position on the Bill was considerable and widespread, with claims made that Labour “supported” the Government’s move.

The Government must have been laughing heartily at that one. Yet the situation was a difficult and complex one for the Labour Party, and I maintain that they made the best possible decision they could from where they were situated: between a rock and a very hard place. Well done Labour.

The Emergency bill reinstated the Department of Work and Pension’s power of sanction. Labour supports fair and proportionate sanctions in the context of a guaranteed six-month minimum-waged job. Labour’s position on sanctions is fundamentally different from the one currently held by the Coalition, and crucially, does not incorporate targets to remove benefits from vulnerable people for no good reason.

It was a no-win choice for Labour, with the Liberal Democrats and Tories combined in their vote, there was no way of making an impact or  stopping the Bill by voting anyway. The abstention came with negotiated and hard won concessions, and that was the best possible outcome that labour could secure. It’s important that we understand the complexities of the situation that arose in order to see this.

Ian Duncan Smith had let it be known that if the £130 million were to be repaid, Job Seekers Allowance would be reduced. The losses of the 230,000 already sanctioned were therefore pitched against potential losses for millions of other jobseekers.

That is an appalling prospect, and it was not a threat from Iain Duncan Smith that was widely publicised. It ought to be. It shows clearly that the Opposition are facing the same oppressive authoritarianism as we are.

The important concessions maintain and uphold the right of appeal for jobseekers, and will ensure an essential review of sanctioning practice happens. The review will serve as a guarantor to the Government having its abuses of the sanction system exposed. It wouldn’t have been highlighted otherwise, since review is the best opportunity for a party in opposition to challenge effectively, and demonstrate gross unfairness, and misapplication and administration regarding policies. Especially when the Government doing the maladministration is an authoritarian one. Well done Labour.

Whether or not this will reduce the angry and hysterical knee-jerk responses that many in the party feel and have articulated towards both Byrne and the Labour leadership remains to be seen, but the importance attached to the review of sanctions, and the other secured concessions certainly makes sense to me.

A vote would have been an empty and meaningless gesture, which, perhaps, may have appeased the Narxists, but with no presented opportunity to improve the lot of jobseekers. For me, looking after the interests of the most vulnerable citizens is paramount. Labour did the right thing here.

At least the review and the maintaining of the right to challenge sanctions have been a significant gain from a very difficult situation. Well done Labour, for prioritising content over style, for ensuring that your response was based on an in-depth analysis, and not on the quick and easy option of a populist, superficial ideal – an empty, meaningless gesture of voting, whilst knowing you would gain nothing. Well done Labour. For prioritising and supporting the rights of vulnerable jobseekers. Quite properly so.

Statement from Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensioners.

“Most people are against the very idea of a retrospective Bill, especially a Bill pushed through Parliament so fast. I agree. It’s a terrible idea to rush ahead on this. Retrospective legislation does happen from time to time. But the government is moving too fast. It’s taken four weeks to bring forward a Bill that the government wants to push through Parliament in days.

So that’s why we are voting for a motion in the Lords deploring the speed with which the government acted – and its why we’ve argued so hard to maximise the time we have to improve the Bill. But we should be clear about something. If the DWP loses its Supreme Court case in a few weeks time, it might find itself liable for £130 million. Where would that money come from? The Employment Minister Mark Hoban told the House yesterday that it could only come from further benefit cuts.

And here’s the choice I faced in the Commons. Do I do everything to foul up the timetable of the bill, safe in the knowledge that because we lack a majority, the Tories and Lib Dems would ultimately win any vote they liked, whenever they liked? At best this might have delayed the Bill a week or two. Or, do I let the Bill go through before Easter in return for two critical concessions which Labour MP’s actually can actually use in practice to help people over the next two years?

I think we made the right call.

To be honest, I was surprised that Iain Duncan Smith accepted the concessions I demanded. Had I wanted to grandstand I could have forced votes that delayed the timetable a bit. This would have been the small “p” politics of parliamentary legislation. It would certainly have been easier for whips to convince colleagues who were concerned. But even now, after all the fury, I think the most honest way was to gain a guaranteed concession and bank it. Labour are in opposition. We don’t normally get any concessions at all. But now we’ve got two vital changes.

First, we had to make sure that people hit by sanctions have an iron-clad right of appeal against a sanction decision. That’s the right we’ve now ensured is written onto the face of the Bill; it’s the right to appeal on ‘good cause’ (for example, refusing to take a pointless course which is inappropriate) within a 13 month timetable.

There’s something else at stake here. I actually think it’s impossible for anyone to stand in Parliament and say that not one single sanction issued by DWP since 2011 is unfair. We’re not psychic. How could we know? The key thing the DWP got wrong was their notification letters which were too short. Instead of saying:

“If you fail to take part in the [name of employment programme] without a good reason under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks. You could also lose your National Insurance credits.”

They should have said:

“Under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks if you fail, without good reason, to take part in [name of employment programme]. This would include failing to complete any activity that your Provider has required you to do.

  • Two weeks, for a first failure
  • Four weeks, if you have previously received a two-week sanction, whether in relation to your participation in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, within the last 12 months; or
  • 26 weeks if you have previously received a four-week or 26-week sanction, whether in relation to your participation in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, within the last 12 months.

This was the lack of detail that provoked the Court of Appeal striking down the government’s sanctioning power. I don’t think we know whether every single sanction decision issued since 2011 is wrong. That’s why we need to ensure people hit by sanctions have the right of appeal – to protect the innocent – and that’s what we got guaranteed on the face of the bill.

Second, there’s something else. I’ve heard too many stories – not least from my own constituents – about people being wrongly sanctioned. And that’s why I insisted – and won – an independent review of the sanctions regime with an urgent report to Parliament. We need to use this to ruthlessly expose bad behaviour. It is actually one of the practical things we can do to make a difference over the next year.

The final argument about Labour’s stance on the Bill, is for many, the most emotive; it’s the wide anger about the very existence of ‘mandatory work activity.’ Labour’s view is that work experience can help get young people into work – but – and this is the crucial ‘but’, we strongly feel that young people should be given a real choice of a real job with a real wage. That means a tax on bankers’ bonuses to create a fund which we would spend offering over 100,000 young people a six month job, with training and job search paid at the national minimum wage. And that’s what we will vote for in the House of Lords over the next few days.

Not one Tory spoke on this Bill in the Commons. We’re different. Labour MP after Labour MP spoke in the Commons. We care about this – and we’re right to debate it with passion and vigour   When we stop being angry about this kind of issue will be the day that we lose our soul. But, let’s be under no illusion. Only by standing shoulder to shoulder will we ultimately push this terrible government into Opposition. We are Labour because we care and debate questions like this so passionately. We reject the politics of divide and rule. And we’ve learned the hard way that unity is strength.”

Liam Byrne.

“The Labour Party used the emergency legislation to ensure that all bad sanctioning decisions can be appealed and even more importantly, that the whole sanctioning regime is reviewed. We forced the Government to implement an independent inquiry into the sanctions regime as part of the Jobseekers Bill and voting against the Bill would have prevented this.

Labour is now gathering evidence to submit to that inquiry. If you have evidence of sanctions being handed out inappropriately I would be grateful to have them, so I can include them in Labour’s submission to the independent review.”

Jon Trickett, MP

Well done Labour.

Further reading:

Leaked jobcentre newsletter urges staff to improve on sanctions targets

Hodge demands explanation for DWP denial of jobcentre sanctions targets

Liam Byrne writes to IDS over sanctions whistleblower

 

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 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone, once again, for his brilliant art work