Bedroom Tax and ESA in the news 31/03/2013

Sue Marsh talked to LBC radio at 20:00 about the people dropping their claim for ESA before their work capability assessment.

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Sue also talked to Sky News at 15:30.

Owen Jones discussed the Bedroom Tax with Robert Oxley of the Tax Payer’s Alliance on Sky News at 17:30

Lisa Egan talked about ESA on Radio 5 Live followed by Grant Shapps.

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Trialia Hall debated the bedroom tax with Edwina Currie on Radio 5 live at 23:20 30/03/2013

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Universal Credit trials quietly postponed

Just ahead of the bank holiday weekend – and just as parliament went into recess – the DWP put out a press release which announced that three out of the four planned local trials of Universal Credit would be delayed for three months and that the trial in April would start in just one Job Centre.

New applications for benefits in Ashton-under-Lyne will be given Universal Credit while applicants in Wigan, Warrington and Oldham will get the new benefit from July. The rest of the country will supposedly join them in October. This looks unlikely, though, given that £500 million computer system required for Universal Credit is not ready and the DWP have been forced to admit that applications during the early trials will be processed manually using spreadsheets. Given that the complex computer system is absolutely essential to Universal Credit this is astonishing and renders the trial pointless.

arena.xlsm - the spreadsheet interface for Universal Credit?
It’s all a game to them – the spreadsheet interface for Universal Credit?

Universal Credit requires an unprecedented level of IT integration. It pulls together information from multiple benefits and the tax system. Universal Credit will be dependent on real-time pay and tax information from HM Revenue and Customs but HMRC RTI is a massive project in its own right with its own major problems. It places strenuous requirements on employers and self employed people to report earnings continuously and is unlikely to go off smoothly on the 6th of April. We may end up in a situation where HMRC chase employers to report only for those claiming Universal Credit (Which is anyone claiming housing benefit or tax credits, not just those not in work) which may lead to employers considering those people as more trouble than they are worth to employ. If employers fail to report earnings properly then benefit overpayments, underpayments and benefit stoppages are likely to be the result for those on low incomes.

There were signs of trouble for Universal Credit in February when David Pitchford was appointed new head of the project. Pitchford is known for being brought in to rescue failing IT projects. Even worse, it seems that staff at six IT suppliers have stopped work on the system. When confronted about this minister for work and pensions Mark Hoban only issued a statement from HP that they still working on it – HP wasn’t one of the six suppliers mentioned in the question so this is hardly encouraging.

Also mentioned in the DWP press release is the fact that Job Centres preparing for Universal Credit will be “ensuring all new JSA and UC claimants are automatically signed on to Universal Jobmatch”. Universal Jobmatch is the flawed online job listing service from the DWP that when it is not busy getting you to sign up to fake jobs or handing over your details to scammers will automatically report back to the DWP about which jobs you look at and demand to know why you haven’t applied for particular jobs. It is not known if “because it is hundreds of miles away” or “because I am not remotely qualified for it” are acceptable answers but they are common ones. Yet more proof of the incompetence of government IT projects, as if we needed it.

Given that Universal Credit is such a massive upheaval and replaces so many benefits if it fails after starting it will cause misery for millions of people, potentially leading to homelessness and starvation. The social fund and emergency loans are also in turmoil so there is no safety net. Given that the government refuse to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform their failure to take real life into account in implementing Universal Credit is not surprising but it is terrifying.

Government doesn’t want to know what Welfare Reform will do to people

WOW Petition – that’s a petition to stop the War On Welfare – calls for the DWP to carry out a cumulative  impact assessment on all the welfare reforms together. It is obvious to most people that the impact of cutting many benefits all at once is more damaging than cutting just one. But the government claim that it is just too difficult to do a cumulative impact assessment, that the changes are too complicated. In reply to the petition (a reply that was long overdue, the petition having doubled the necessary 10,000 signatures to merit one) the government said:

“Cumulative impact analysis is not being withheld – it is very difficult to do accurately and external organisations have not produced this either.

The Government is limited in what cumulative analysis is possible because of the complexity of the modelling required and the amount of detailed information on individuals and families that is required to estimate the interactions of a number of different policy changes.”

It is not that difficult though, and certainly within the means of a government department when millions of people will be negatively affected. To prove the point think tank Demos have had a go at it themselves. They estimate that the total loss over  five years will be £28.3bn. Let me spell that out: Twenty-eight billion pounds. That is not – as my MP told me – the vulnerable being protected. That is the vulnerable being mugged.

Writing in The Guardian, report author Claudia Wood said:

At one end of the cumulative impact scale, 88,000 disabled people currently claiming employment support allowance (ESA) will feel a double whammy of a 1% cap on uprating and a 12-month eligibility limit. At the other end of the scale, at least 1,000 disabled people (possibly up to 5,000) will face six separate cuts to their benefits income. By the time the next round of cuts are due in four years, they will be £23,300 worse off per person.

In between these two groups are about 120,000 disabled people facing a triple cut, and 99,000 a quadruple cut. These combinations represent at the very least a loss of £6,309 per person by 2017. The worst loss of £23,461 per person by 2017 will be experienced by those unfortunate enough to lose their eligibility for disability living allowance and ESA, and who are reliant on other benefits that will only increase by 1% because of the rating cap or by the consumer prices index (CPI) instead of inflation.

Wood points out that these figures are an underestimate,  cuts to child benefit, the independent living fund, social fund or council tax credit being just a few other factors. Underestimate this may be, but it seems that the DWP are refusing to calculate even the minimum impact because they can’t work out what the maximum impact is. We don’t need to work out the worst case to be able to see that even the best case is not good.

Dead people don't get benefits
Dead people don’t get benefits – cartoon by @dochackenbush

It doesn’t really matter though, because the government are just making excuses. The fact is that they don’t want to know what the impact will be because if they knew then they would have no excuse for continuing with these savage cuts. It’s actually worse than that, because they must know, but they don’t want to be seen to know. As we saw last week, government ministers don’t actually want to talk to the people affected, making bizarre excuses to get out of talking to Spartacus. They don’t want to hear anything that would contradict their rhetoric.

These cuts don’t make economic sense either, even when you view them for what they are rather than “reform” aimed at helping anyone. Cutting DLA will leave people stranded at home where their health will deteriorate and lead to higher costs to the NHS. Cutting the Independent Living Fund will institutionalise people, sending them back to expensive care homes and preventing them from living and working alongside the rest of society. Cutting money that is spent by disabled people on care and travel will damage the car industry and cut jobs for carers. Welfare isn’t money that disappears, it is money that is ploughed straight back into the economy and its loss will be noticed. Although possibly not by George Osborne.

The government are sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “La la la I can’t hear you” when it comes to welfare reform. Sign WOWpetition to tell them that we know they can hear us and we’re on to them and we won’t stand for it.

Demo – Destination Unknown: April 2013

The Guardian – Claudia Wood: The government has a duty to assess the impact of its benefit cuts

The Guardian – Welfare cuts will cost disabled people £28bn over five years

Labour People’s Policy Forum

People who read my rant about The Labour Party last week will be surprised to know that yesterday I attended the Labour People’s Policy Forum in Birmingham and put questions to Labour MPs. I won’t be voting Labour any time soon but for all of the past actions and the betrayal of Labour, they are likely to be in power in 2015 and so I jumped at the chance to influence their next manifesto.

Caroline Flint, Maria Eagle and Mary Creagh

I put questions to Caroline Flint, Maria Eagle and Mary Creagh about income security and benefits. I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the answers but I was pleased when Maria Eagle told me that demonising disabled people was the worst thing that the government had done. I also asked them if they would ever consider basic income but the answer was politician-speak for “no”. (It took a few more words than that.)

In another forum Emma Round managed to get a round of applause for suggesting that Labour should apologise for ESA, the work capability assessment and Atos.

Ed Miliband at the People's Policy ForumThe main event of the day was a Q&A session with Ed Miliband. The audience was made up almost entirely of people who were not members of Labour, which I think was a brave decision especially since the first few questions were very angry. It opened with a demand that Labour challenge the Welfare Reform Act, calling it an insult to a developed country and an assault on its people. The second speaker gave a call to protect the NHS, saying “I work in the NHS, I believe in the NHS but next week I won’t BE in the NHS, I’ll work in public health. Come next week everything that we do and across the NHS is going to go out to tender.” These sentiments got applause and agreement from the audience. Questions followed about education, jobs, equality and much more.

Eventually I got to ask the question which had brought me there through the snow and despite the two hours of awful driving conditions and the resulting cost to my health. I asked Ed Miliband to scrap Personal Independence Payments and keep Disability Living Allowance. I’m afraid the answer was as vague and meaningless as I expected, but I am glad that I got to put the question to him in a public forum.

My question to Ed Miliband

Watch the whole Q&A session with Ed Miliband

The show starts about 44 minutes through the video.

uklabour on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

Government invoke Godwin’s law to refuse to meet disabled people

Esther McVey - Talk to the hand
Esther McVey: Talk to the hand

The government has cited one line in the guest  foreward of a review of the work capability assessment as the reason why it refuses to meet with representatives of sick and disabled people. The line they objected to referred to wounded soldiers being sent back to the front by the Nazis.

As Michael Meacher MP said in Parliament “This work is evidence based, uses the DWP’s figures wherever possible, has never been challenged on accuracy.” He pointed out that it has been used by the Work and Pensions select committee, the joint committee on human rights, and in many parliamentary debates.

Mark Hoban, Minister of State for Work and Pensions, refused to meet Meacher to talk about the Work Capability Assessment and he flatly refused to meet representatives of We Are Spartacus. In Michael Meacher’s own words:

He simply replied blankly “I’m not seeing you”, and repeated it 3 0r 4 times.   I kept on insisting ‘Why not?’ and finally he said “I’m not seeing Spartacus”.   Again I was taken aback and asserted that in my view Spartacus had analysed hundreds of cases, prepared a very detailed and thoughtful analysis of the implications arising from these cases, and even if he disagreed strongly for whatever reasons it was his responsibility to meet them.   To this he simply kept repeating “I’m not meeting Spartacus”.

Michael Meacher took it to the speaker of the house and arranged a debate to face Hoban in Parliament. Hoban didn’t turn up. Instead he send Esther McVey, Minister for Disabled People. Who publicly refused to meet disabled people. The reason given, eventually, was that it “wouldn’t be constructive”. The evidence presented was one sentence from the guest foreward of The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment.

The process is reminiscent of the medical tribunals that returned shell shocked and badly wounded soldiers to duty in the first world war or the ‘KV-machine’, the medical commission the Nazis used in the second world war to play down wounds so that soldiers could be reclassified ‘fit for the Eastern front’.

– Guest Foreward to The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment by Professor Peter Beresford OBE, BA Hons, PhD, AcSS, FRSA, Dip WP, Professor of Social Policy, Brunel University

The government have essentially invoked Godwin’s Law to get out of meeting the most effective campaign against their welfare policy. They are afraid, desperate, and grabbing at any way out they can find.

Please sign the WOW petition to call for a cumulative impact assessment of the government’s welfare reforms.

Michael Meacher MP: DWP Ministers run frit of seeing delegation on Atos Healthcare

Benefit Scrounging Scum: Polite? Constructive? Request to meet with Minister Mark Hoban 10/2012

We Are Spartacus: The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment

Where’s The Benefit: Is It Coz We Is Disabled?

A Latent Existence: Godwin’s Law Must Die

We Are Spartacus

New limits on welfare hidden in the budget

The latest budget speech has more welfare cuts buried deep within.

From Hansard, emphasis mine:

“Ultimately as a country we will not be able to spend more on the services we all value, from our NHS to our armed forces, or invest in our infrastructure, unless we go on tackling the growth of spending on welfare budgets. The public spending framework introduced by the previous Government divided Government spending into two halves: fixed departmental budgets and what is called annually managed expenditure—except in practice it was annually unmanaged expenditure—and it includes almost the entire welfare budget as well as items like debt interest and payments to the EU. I can tell the House that according to the OBR forecast today, the European budget deal secured by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has saved Britain a total of £3.5 billion. We will now introduce a new limit on a significant proportion of annually managed expenditure. It will be set out in a way that allows the automatic stabilisers to operate, but it will bring real control to areas of public spending that had been out of control. We will set out more detail on how this new spending limit will work at the spending round in June. All decisions, on welfare, pay and Departments are tough, and they affect many people. But if we did not take them, what is a difficult situation for them and for the whole country would be very much worse.”

Update

TouUCstone, a TUC blog, has already written about the impact of this. Thanks to hindleA for posting the link in the comments.

 Touch Stone Blog: Annually Managed Expenditure: a bang or a whimper?

Do I really have to say why workfare is wrong?

Workfare Times cartoon

Workfare replaces paid jobs with unpaid labour

“Did you know we could offer you free, temporary staff for four weeks?”

– Previous advertising material from JHP Employability.

“After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks, my friend asked ‘with pay’? The manager said why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing”

Comment on Guardian CIF about a work placement with Tesco

“Stores such as Argos, Asda, Superdrug and Shoezone made use of the government’s workfare schemes to meet their seasonal demand, instead of hiring extra staff or offering overtime.”

red pepper: Workfare: a policy on the brink

Workfare keeps wages down for those still in jobs.

“It’s obvious that workfare workers are replacing paid jobs – pushing our low-wage economy down towards a no-wage economy.”

– Natalie Bennett – Leader of the Green Party

Workfare is literally worse than useless

“5 per cent of long-term unemployed can be expected to find jobs for six months if left alone to do so.

Successful six month employment rate during the first year of the Work Programme was just 2.3 per cent, significantly below the target of 5.5 per cent.”

– Telegraph: Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme ‘worse than doing nothing’ (The Work Programme includes work placements.)

Workfare subsidises big business

Instead of paying wages that contribute taxes and spending back into the economy, big companies like Tesco and Poundland benefit from free labour while continuing to keep the workers reliant on benefits at our expense. That money goes straight into shareholder’s profits.

Workfare does not provide the training that it is meant to

Work experience schemes are meant to provide training for future jobs. Instead we have people with extensive education toward a chosen career being sent to stack shelves and sweep floors which does not further them in the career they have trained for at all. Even when a person expects to find work in retail, four weeks experience in shelf stacking is hardly a necessity to do the job in future. In most cases little or no training is being given and the work placement consists only of manual labour.

Workfare exploits sick and disabled people

People who receive Employment Support Allowance and are placed in the Work Related Activity Group can be sent on The Work Programme or Mandatory Work Activity. Charities such as Sue Ryder, The Conservation Volunteers and The Salvation Army are fully aware of that, even enthusiastic, although TCV has now announced it will not force people on ESA to volunteer(!) and Sue Ryder has pulled out altogether.

“How can we morally take sick and disabled people and force them to work?

At The Salvation Army, we have a history of believing in emancipation through employment. People who come for work experience with us are fully supported throughout their placements with help tailored support to their needs.”

The Salvation Army, in a comment on Facebook

“Arbeit Mach Frei”

The Nazis

Workfare is costing poor people money they don’t have

People sent on work schemes are having to pay for transport to get there without any extra income. Sick and disabled people are often being hit particularly hard by transport costs as they are too sick to use the bus or train and end up paying for taxis to avoid having their benefits cut.

Workfare is damaging the health of sick and disabled people

People in the Work Related Activity Group on Employment Support Allowance are not fit for work, they are considered to potentially be fit for work at some unknown point in the next few years. And yet they can be sent to work nearly full time (30 hours) for several weeks. Of course it’s going to damage their health.

Workfare doesn’t create new jobs, only changes who might be in a job.

If there aren’t any jobs being created then all workfare does is give the employer weeks of free labour from one or more people before they employ someone, if they even need to.

Workfare doesn’t pay wages

“A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work”

the least that an employee should demand.

Whatever you think of workfare, retroactive laws are wrong

IDS - "We've heard enough of you"
“We’ve heard enough of you.”

Iain Duncan Smith is rushing a bill through in just one day that will retroactively change the law to undo a court judgement against the government.

Even if you don’t believe that it is wrong to send people to work unpaid for large profit-making companies under threat of loss of benefits, the idea that the government can change the law in the past should terrify you. Human rights law includes the idea that a person cannot be punished for something that was not illegal until after the act, although no doubt the department of work and pensions will claim that sanctions that remove benefit are not punishment despite the name “sanctions”. A government that will change the law in the past at will is a government that is out of control and has no limits on the damage that it can do.

Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP must be aware that their actions will contravene human rights law. From the explanatory notes:

“The Government considers that Article 6 is not engaged at all since the claim to entitlement to benefit, and any dispute regarding a benefit decision thereon which would require access to the courts, remains hypothetical.”

Strangely, despite considering article 6, the right to a fair trial, the government don’t even mention article 7, which guarantees rights against retroactive punishment. They could try to argue, as quoted above, that entitlement to benefit is hypothetical and therefore sanctions are withdrawal not punishment.

It is an affront to democracy and justice too to rush a bill through in one day so as to apply it without proper scrutiny before any appeal reaches the court and the government required to repay those who were subject to illegal sanctions.

To change the law for the future is one thing, but to try to reverse a lawful decision by the court against the government for the sake of £130 million, a drop in the ocean for welfare, looks like a childish hissy fit by the work and pensions secretary. His action undermines the rule of law and destroys what little respect people may have left for MPs.

parliament.uk: Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill 2012-13

DWP: Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill Impact Assessment [PDF]


Update 19:25

The government rushed through the second reading, committee stage (no ammendments) and third reading in one afternoon. The final vote passed the bill by 263 to 52. Labour’s official policy was to abstain, although about forty Labour MPs voted against it. There were some very impassioned speeches in particular from Iain Lavery and John McDonnell who even recommended looking at the Boycott Workfare website.I have uploaded videos of those speeches and included them here. They’re worth a watch.

Why I’ll choose division over supporting Labour

When people tell me that I should not criticise Labour because I am being divisive or that I must vote Labour to get the Tories out it’s a kick in the guts. I’m being offered a choice between a party that will rob and beat us or a party that will rob and beat us a little less and sometimes give us cookies afterwards.

https://twitter.com/Cadoret/status/313397860425162753

“Today in Liverpool, and in many other cities across the UK, Labour attempted to capitalise on the anger and fear surrounding the bedroom tax by holding their own rallies. It’s worth noting at this point that, much to the anger of people who have already started organising in their communities, Labour did fuck all to try and contact the aleady existing grassroots tenant groups – you know, the people who will be on the front line when bedroom tax hits hard.”  – Quote from Magic Zebras: Labour can’t co-opt our anger

(Note that I am aware that the bedroom tax protests were organised by Labour Left and not Labour. I include the above quote as an example of the anger and sense of betrayal held against Labour and the obliviousness of some Labour activists.)

Labour are better than the Tories, but the bar for that is not high. I have no confidence that Labour will actually undo any of the devastation that the current government are inflicting on us. I have no confidence that Labour will actually bring provision of the NHS back under state control, restart local services, or rein in the banks. I have many good reasons not to trust Labour.

Don't blame me, I voted for kodos
Before I was angry with Tories, I was angry with Labour. Very angry. Labour destroyed rights and civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism and people we don’t like. Labour introduced the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which gave extensive powers to government to spy on electronic communications, led to local councils spying on people over school places, litter dropping and dog poo problems, and made it a crime punishable by two years in prison to refuse to incriminate yourself by handing over encryption keys.

Labour gave us control orders that let them keep people under house arrest forever because the evidence against them is secret or non-existent. Labour gave the police the ability to put people in prison for 28 days without charge never mind trial, and they wanted it to be 90 days.

Labour gave us ASBOs which let a judge make something a crime punishable with prison where before it was legal but merely annoying. Labour gave us dispersal zones which let a power-tripping police officer order people to leave the area on a whim. (I had one outside my house.)

Labour gave us war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the face of protests by millions.

Labour changed the law to attack the right to protest outside of Parliament because one anti-war protester irritated them.

Labour tried to bring back ID cards, and worse, an identity database that would record numerous trivial details about each of us that added up to a massive intrusion by the state.

Labour replaced Incapacity Benefit with Employment Support Allowance and gave the contract to Atos to assess everyone that claimed it. It was Labour that decided that the medical expertise of your own doctors and consultants was not worth as much as some jumped-up Atos employee ticking boxes on a computer while ignoring what you tell them.

Labour are neoliberal – they support privatization, deregulation, decimating the public sectore and outsourcing everything possible to the private sector. Labour bailed out the banks at vast expense – some £800 billion. The bulk of our current national debt, in fact.

Labour introduced competition to NHS providers. Labour brought in the purchaser-provider split, commissioning, and competition rules, and PFI, all of which made the current destruction of the NHS possible. Labour handed over our hospitals to Private Finance Initiatives which allowed private companies to run the hospitals while charging incredible amounts of interest and extortionate fees for the simplest of maintenance tasks.

Sure, Labour did some good things too. Labour got the deficit under control before the bank bailout. They actually ran a surplus for a few years. Labour fought for social justice and against child poverty. Labour fought for inclusion and equal rights. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour has members I actually consider to be decent people and who fight for justice and for good. But Labour has a great deal more members who stand for all of the bad things I just mentioned.

I am not telling anyone not to support Labour but these are the reasons why I can’t vote for them. There are good people working to change Labour from the inside and I salute them – MPs like Michael Meacher, activist members like Sue Marsh. But I cannot give my vote to Labour, and the LibDems took my vote and handed it over to the Conservatives. If Alternative Voting (AV) had been voted in then Labour would have been my second choice on every future ballot but as things stand If I can’t vote Green or Independent in future elections then I will spoil my ballot rather than vote for everything that I saw Labour do. That may be divisive, but so be it. I can’t endorse Labour’s past or risk endorsing what they do in the future.

Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

Bedroom tax: just stop smoking and drinking says housing association

Eastlands homes newsletter about bedroom tax The latest issue of Streets Ahead, the newsletter of housing association Eastlands Homes in Manchester has this advice on dealing with the bedroom tax.

“Can you really afford Sky, cigarettes, bingo, drinks and other non essentials? If your benefit is being cut and you want to keep your home you have to make up the difference. Non-essential items won’t matter if you lose your home. Start budgeting now – we can help you do this, call us!”

This is outrageous for several reasons. It implies that all social housing tenants are unable to budget and will put those things first. It implies that they need things explaining to them at such a patronising level. It assumes that people on benefits are feckless and stupid rather than unlucky. It refers to cutting out everything nice in your life as “budgeting”. It assumes that people even could afford those things in the first place without scrimping and saving. It assumes that no person on housing benefit should ever have even minor luxuries, the tiniest of nice things. That poor people should sit in a corner, shut up, stare at the wall with no TV on it, never go out socially, and wait for their miserable existence to end.

I want to see an apology and a retraction from Eastlands Homes for this insulting language and perpetuating of stereotypes.

Eastlands Homes are on Facebook and Twitter.


Update 2013-03-18 13:30

Eastlands Homes have put out an apology of sorts. Unfortunately it’s a “sorry if you were offended” which implies it’s your fault rather than a “sorry we got it wrong”.

https://twitter.com/EastlandsHomes/status/313621705069322241

An Apology

18/03/2013

We’re sorry if our article offended you.

We’ve lobbied continuously against the government cuts which threaten the quality of life for many of our customers. We’ve increased the range of support and advice for anyone struggling in the face of these cuts as you will see from our newsletter.
We know there will be stark choices – our message is that we are here to help wherever possible and we’re sorry if we worded that clumsily.

The offence isn’t caused by their wording. The offence is caused by the whole view that they have of their tenants that their statement betrays.