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

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.

Too far too fast? We don’t need cuts at all

More cuts make everything better
Cartoon by the excellent @dochackenbush

A little over a year ago I was out on a protest against the welfare reform bill. I was doing one of several interviews of that day, explaining exactly how the welfare reform bill was going to cause serious harm to a great deal of people.

“But you do accept that we need cuts?” said the interviewer.

“No.”

“What…?”

The interviewer was lost for words. Of course we need cuts. We have massive debt! There’s no money left!

I said something about the debt being caused by banks and about corporate tax avoidance but I wasn’t prepared for the question and my answer was not convincing enough. The interviewer had clearly decided I was mad and he moved on.

A year later, as then, the opposition from Labour to the Tory / LibDem austerity appears to be a simple statement that we do need cuts, and lots of them, but that the government are cutting too far and too fast. The Labour alternative is simply to cut a little less and to take longer to do it so as not to dump it all on the people at once. I think they are wrong.

So how can I justify that? As Liam Byrne said in his famous note to his successor at the Treasury in 2010, “There’s no money left.” The national debt is at £1.15 trillion. That’s £1,146,732,208,608 right this instant as I write. The deficit – the difference between the UK’s income and expenses – is running at well over ten billion pounds per month. That is, we borrowed an extra £13bn in January. The government have been making cuts, desperately slashing expenditure on public services, welfare and the military, and yet the debt continues to rocket upwards. Even the deficit is still growing, despite what the prime minister claims. Andrew Dilnot of the UK Statistics Authority had to point out to the prime minister that our debt has risen from £811bn in 2010 when the coalition took office to £1.1tn at the end of last year.

Why then, if cuts are being made, is our debt still going up? There are several answers to this.

  • We are in recession and income from tax is falling because money isn’t being spent to tax.
  • Cutting expenditure causes a further shrinking of the economy and a drop in tax income. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that in 2011-12 austerity reduced GDP by around 1.4%.
  • Cutting costs money. Cutting services means that we simply have to spend elsewhere to undo the damage of those cuts. For example, the cuts to care at home and the Independent Living Fund results in people being forced to move into care homes which easily costs ten times as much. Ditto for the bedroom tax, which sends disabled people into care homes and makes whole families homeless who then get put up in a “bed and breakfast” (with no breakfast) at many times the cost.
  • The government aren’t actually spending less despite cutting spending on services. Among other things they are spending money saved by those cuts on administration of welfare reform in more complex testing of benefits and in administration of outsourcing most NHS services. (I prefer to call it privatisation but technically it is outsourcing even if the result either way is a private hospital.)

Cutting doesn’t work, and “cutting” the way the government are doing it isn’t cutting at all, it’s moving money around into administration of private companies to run public services and then claiming that actually more is being invested in the NHS and more benefits money is available for “the most vulnerable” and “those who need it most”.

Assuming that we accept the current growth-obsessed financial system at all then these are the solutions to recession that we need to aim for:

  • Government must borrow more to smooth over the deficit until the economy picks up and tax income rises again, so that our income matches our outgoings.
  • We need to make tax avoidance illegal and recruit more staff at HMRC to collect those taxes. Closing the loopholes and clamping down on the tax gap would raise tens of billions of pounds.
  • We need to invest in doctors, nurses and facilities for the NHS and in care for sick and disabled people, thus creating jobs and providing for our needs at the same time.
  • We need to build social housing, creating jobs in the building industry while simultaneously bringing down rents and reducing the housing benefit bill.
  • We need to bring welfare benefits back above poverty levels, which not only provides for those who need it most, the mark of a civilised society, but would also put money back into the economy when spent. For a really radical solution we could consider some form of Basic Income.

Doing all of the above would create jobs and reduce expenses elsewhere, and result in money being spent by the people and going back into the economy rather than disappearing off as a banker’s bonus sitting in an offshore account.

DWP work schemes found illegal

The Court of Appeal has ruled today that the Department of Work and Pensions back-to-work schemes are illegal because the regulations that Iain Duncan Smith created to allow the schemes overstepped the law. (An act of Parliament allows for regulations to be created to specify the detail of the law, these regulations went further than Parliament had allowed for.) The court did not find that the schemes violated article 4 of the Human Rights Act, nor did it find that the concept of making people undertake work experience to increase employment prospects would be a problem were it in an act of parliament. Since these work schemes have been proven to actually reduce employment prospects, however, it is possible that the schemes may yet be found to violate human rights.

Public Interest Lawyers explain the judgement:

“The Court found that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, has acted beyond the powers given to him by Parliament by failing to provide, any detail about the various “Back to Work” schemes in the Regulations. The Government had bypassed Parliament by introducing the Back to Work schemes administratively under an “umbrella” scheme knwons as the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme, claiming the need for “flexibility’. The Court of Appeal held that this was contrary to what Parliament had required.”

Paragraph 63 of the judgment criticises the information given to the benefit claimants. I have covered this in previous blog posts (Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence) where I explained that letters sent out state clearly that the work experience is not optional and will result in sanctions while DWP ministers have simultaneously appeared on TV to claim that the work is voluntary and that they have not forced anyone.

Public Interest Lawyers also tell us that:

“The effect of the judgment is that all those people who have been sanctioned by having their jobseeker’s allowance withdrawn for non-compliance with the Back to Work Schemes affected will be entitled to reclaim their benefits. And until new regulations are enacted with proper Parliamentary approval nobody can be compelled to participate on the schemes.”

The two people who brought this case were made to take part in Sector based work Academies and in the Community Action Programme. I do no know whether this judgement affects Work Experience arranged either by the Job Centre or as part of The Work Programme however it does not affect Mandatory Work Activity, which remains legal. It should be noted that some people who refused to co-operate with “voluntary” work experience were referred to Mandatory Work Activity as a result which allowed for sanctions, but this was not covered either.

In a written statement today Minster for Employment Mark Hoban MP said:

“Whilst the judgment supports the principle and policy of our employment schemes, and acknowledges the care and resources we have dedicated to implementing them, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise) Regulations 2011 (“the ESE Regulations”) do not describe the employment schemes to which they apply, as is required by the primary legislation. The Court of Appeal has therefore held the ESE Regulations to be ultra vires and quashed them.”

The government has been refused leave to appeal by the Court of Appeal but despite this they have announced that they will appeal to the supreme court to have the judgement overturned. Job Seekers who have been sanctioned by the DWP will not be able to appeal to the DWP for the repayment of their benefits until this has finished. Worryingly the minister also stated that the DWP are “considering a range of options to ensure we do not have to repay these sanctions.” This suggests to me that there will be a hastily enacted act of Parliament to move the scheme from regulations into law, but even then I cannot see how it could be retroactive.

Further Reading

The lawyers: Court of Appeal Rules that the Government’s “Back to Work” Regulations are Unlawful and Must Be Quashed

The Judges: Full judgement of the Court Of Appeal [PDF]

The DWP: Written Ministerial Statement: Judgment in Wilson/Reilly case [PDF]

The regulations: The Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011

The Guardian: Graduate’s Poundland victory leaves government work schemes in tatters

Telling the full story of benefit changes

Mainstream media has shown very little interest in covering the coming changes to benefits and the impact that this will have. There is an occasional segment on TV news and a few more newspaper articles but even after two years of campaigning few people realise what is actually happening. The common reaction is disbelief and accusations of scaremongering and exaggeration.

My idea is to create an hour long documentary film using all the professional tricks to make it compelling and informative so that it conveys the full impact of the changes hitting people who live on benefits, whether unemployed, disabled or low-income. It would use personal stories, graphics, commentary, interviews and music to tell the story. The film does not have to convey a political message, only the reality of the changes. Any positive changes that can be found should be included too. I believe that even if made as unbiased as possible the film will be devastating in its message.

To get mainstream appeal the film could be narrated by and feature interviews with celebrities, with well-known paralympians potentially being the best choice but others too.

While a spot on television would be the ideal, these days a film on YouTube can get millions of views – potentially more than would see on TV. An online campaign using very short clips and hashtags could attract viewers. To raise the chances of it being seen on TV a ten minute version could be made using materials from the full version and sent to TV stations everywhere.

I’ve noted some of the steps that I think will be required. They’re not necessarily in any particular order.

  • Find a suitable name and some introductory branding
  • Create a website for the film
  • Crowdsource a list of all benefit cuts, eligibility reductions, care and service cuts and the impact of all this.
  • Start an awareness campaign on social media to get people involved.
  • Ask people to submit short clips through Vine and YouTube telling their stories and what they expect to happen. Clips can be recorded with smartphones or webcams. Gather these clips under a hashtag on twitter.
  • Raise funds through donations  for travelling to record interviews.
  • Interested parties meet to discuss content. Further meetings where appropriate in later steps.
  • Record interviews with celebs.
  • Follow up personal stories for better recordings.
  • Create graphics and animations to explain the changes.
  • Edit together a draft version of the film.
  • Record narration of the changes.
  • Create transcripts and subtitles.
  • Meet up physically and make a final version of the film.

This is all very much at the ideas stage, please comment with your views, suggestions, offers of help etc. Lets make this happen!

Concerns about prepaid benefit cards

The use of prepaid cash cards for benefit payments surfaced a few months ago. The Telegraph published a story that Iain Duncan Smith had asked his advisers to look at paying benefits to “problem families” on smart cards to limit their spending so that they could not buy alcohol or drugs. I wrote at that time about why the scheme is an awful idea including the imposition of the “nanny state” into people’s lives, inability to spend money locally where cards are not accepted and the impact of depriving people of entertainment and pleasure.

That was not an announcement of government policy, and indeed would go against Iain Duncan Smith’s stated aim that Universal Credit will teach financial responsibility and budgeting by unifying many benefits into one monthly payment. However in December Alec Shelbrooke MP introduced a ten minute rule bill to pay most benefits through such a scheme. Shelbrooke specifically intended the welfare cash card as a means to restrict spending by people who receive benefits, including housing benefit paid to people who work. The Telegraph wrote:

The Bill for Welfare Cash Card is designed to stop welfare claimants buying what Shelbrooke deems “NEDD” goods – Non-Essential, Desirable and often Damaging – which include cigarettes, alcohol and gambling. It would not affect those who cannot work and receive disability-related payments or those on the state pension, but it would apply to all other in-work or out-of-work benefits.

The Welfare Cash Card Bill 2012-13 is due for a second reading in March. A ten minute rule bill does not have the backing of government and is unlikely to become law but it may well influence debate and opinion in parliament and could pave the way for a government-backed bill.

I had hoped that this was the end of it, but today thinktank Demos has published a report advocating the use of prepaid debit cards for benefits. The report is backed by MasterCard, although Claudia Wood, the main author of the report has said that they had no input over the content.

https://twitter.com/WoodClaudia/status/296576264767160320

Prepayment cards for social care

Recommendation 1
In the face of unprecedented budget cuts, local authorities should explore the possibility of using prepaid cards for the distribution of personal budgets, as a tool to reduce administrative costs and reduce the budgetary cuts passed to front-line services. From Demos report The Power of Prepaid

Wood has written an article in The Guardian (With little to indicate that she is the author of the Demos report) explaining that Demos does not advocate using the cards to restrict spending, but as a tool for local authorities to allow better auditing and reduce paperwork. She writes:

“Brent council in north London estimates it was receiving 25,000 pieces of paper a year from care users. It expects a 10% reduction in its personal budget costs by using prepay cards.”

Ally Fogg has written a piece for Comment is Free about the potential savings for councils and the drawbacks – The dubious benefits of welfare payment cards. It seems that councils agree that there are savings to be made. According to Wood,

“About 25% of local authorities are using prepay cards and another 30% plan on doing so this year, mainly to distribute direct payments in social care.”

However while I can see a point here – that councils must audit spending of social care funding and direct payments, that doing so it expensive, that checking transactions from a prepaid card account is easier – I am not happy with the privacy implications. In order to audit the use of social care funding, councils will have to monitor the use of the card. At the moment recipients of Direct Payments have to send in paperwork every so often. One person told me theirs is checked annually. Monitoring of a payment card account, on the other hand, would be continuous or frequent. It may cause stress or fear of mistakes especially if a person chooses to juggle their finances and delay a payment.

Then there is the issue of how money is actually moved to pay for goods and services. Prepayment cards can usually pay through VISA or Mastercard services and so can be used in shops and online. The kind of payment card account that Demos advocate (and it is really a kind of bank account) could allow cash withdrawal, direct debits and bank transfers, which would allow payment to Personal Assistants and carers directly employed by a disabled person.

Prepayment card for Universal Credit

Recommendation 4
Prepaid cards should be used as a secure way to distribute Universal Credit for the unbanked.

From Demos report The Power of Prepaid

Prepaid cards might be a reasonable option for people who do not have bank accounts, but that should be entirely their choice. The Demos report mentions those who fear or do not want a bank account as potential candidates, but frankly if they don’t want a bank account then they won’t want a prepaid card which is basically a bank account with more limits. They especially will not want one which is selected and pushed on them by local or national government. If benefits must be paid into an electronic account then I think that the only acceptable solution here is to allow the recipient to select one. Basic bank accounts are available to most people barring some with particular criminal records and those without any form of ID, and I can’t see prepaid cards being available without ID. If someone who is actually unable to get a bank account wants a prepaid card instead then the choice of which one should be theirs alone.

Recommendation 5
In the longer term, the Government should explore the possibility of using prepaid cards to distribute Universal Credit or other benefits to financially vulnerable groups, possibly integrated with direct payments in health or care.

Some care users (such as those with learning disabilities, mental health needs or older people vulnerable to financial abuse) might find prepaid cards a beneficial way to spend both their health or care personal budgets and their disability related benefits. Those seeking to live with greater independence and develop life and budgeting skills, but who may need the safety net of oversight a prepaid card can offer, would find this particularly beneficial – the alternative at the moment is usually apointeeships and managed budgets, where people have little or no financial responsibility and cannot try to take on more.

From Demos report The Power of Prepaid

Demos also recommend that prepayment cards be considered for the payment of Universal Credit for those considered financially vulnerable. The main reason for this is to monitor their spending and prevent financial abuse through carers and relatives stealing money. Again there are privacy implications depending on who carries out the monitoring, violating a person’s right to a private life. I worry that the range of people considered to be vulnerable will be far too wide, such that people who are old or have mental health problems might be forced to have a prepaid card whether it would help prevent financial abuse or not.

Should the group receiving Universal Credit overlap with the group receiving social care funding then there are serious privacy implications regarding the release of their other spending data to the people monitoring the social care spending.

Concerns

I can see that there are benefits to using prepaid cards where local government has a duty to audit spending. I can see that there would be a saving. I am concerned, all the same, that such monitoring goes beyond what they are required to do and turns something that might be fairly unintrusive and infrequent into a continuous process that will infringe on a person’s right to a private life and will cause stress.

I am concerned that splitting income into separate financial systems – bank account and prepaid card – will allow less flexibility to juggle expenses in the face of the poverty which many disabled people face. It will also cause an increase in administration. [Claudia Wood has pointed out to me that a separate bank account is already legally required for a personal budget. I do think that requiring it to be with a separate financial provider instead of the same bank is a drawback though.]

I am concerned that the prepaid card provider is chosen by government and not the individual. I do not believe that a particular bank or financial service should be forced on someone. If payments must be made electronically then the choice of bank or prepaid card provider must be up to the individual.

I am concerned that these cards will be pushed out of profit motive. Prepaid card provider allpay has already jumped to capitalise on the report from Demos to sell their prepaid cards to councils for the payment of social care funding. An article which is more or less an advertisement for allpay appeared yesterday. (Call for ‘revolutionary’ welfare payments move) The allpay website dedicates a section of its front page to talking about “Welfare reform: how we’re supporting housing associations and councils”. Payment card providers such as allpay will receive a fee every time their card is used, just as with a debit card or credit card so of course it is in their interest to see that benefits are paid through their service.

I am concerned that the use of prepaid cards will be normalised through the requirement for monitoring some payments and will then spread further to all people in receipt of benefits before being used to restrict spending. This report is a subtle shift in argument away from preventing “waste” of benefits on alcohol and cigarettes and Sky TV, and onto responsibility and independence but other politicians and groups still want the ability to dictate what benefits can be spend on. In fact Radio 4 spoke to Alec Shelbrook MP at length this morning and Shelbrook heavily pushed the idea, with Claudia Wood arguing against him. While The Guardian recognised the point that Demos were making in their coverage, The Telegraph has also covered it from the point of view of restricting spending, claiming the card would “help them stop spending taxpayer cash on gambling, cigarettes and alcohol”.

I think when considering the points raised by Demos we should keep individual freedom and privacy foremost in mind and we should realise that there are a lot of things that could be done to save money that we don’t consider acceptable compromises.

Further Reading

Thinktank recommends issuing benefit cash on ‘prepay’ cards – The Guardian

‘Welfare cash cards’ are much more than a tool of state control – article in The Guardian by the author of the Demos report

Benefits on pre-paid cards? – This Morning, Radio 4

Ministers should consider paying benefits via ‘Oyster-style’ cards – The Telegraph

Call for ‘revolutionary’ welfare payments move – an article promoting prepaid cards to councils

The Power of Prepaid – The report from Demos

‘Welfare cash cards’ can help reduce the benefits bill and stop people buying booze and fags with taxpayer’s money – Telegraph

Welfare Cash Card Bill 2012-13 – parliament.uk

The dubious benefits of welfare payment cards – Comment is free

Welfare cash cards and spying: the Tory approach to unemployment – Comment is free

 

Letter to my MP on new ESA regulations #esaSOS

As promised, although a little late due to lack of spoons, here is the email that I sent to my MP regarding the new ESA regulations. Feel free to take any text from this for your own use.

Dear Mr Luff,

I would like to apologise for the swearing incident which led you to block me on Twitter. As I am sure you must realise by now I suffer from mood swings and anger triggered by chronic pain and the painkillers which I take for it – something which will be inadmissible at my next Work Capability Assessment.

I have been shocked to read about new ESA regulations which will come into force on the 28th of January 2013 and I am writing to express my strong opposition to them. I appreciate that not much can be done at this late stage but this is in no small part due to the regulations coming into force less than six weeks after their announcement.

The new regulations allow a decision to be made about benefits based purely on the supposed difference that a suggested change, therapy, aid or medicine would make. This is already the case some of the time but will be much expanded in the new regulations. The new regulations do not require the Atos Health Care Professional (HCP) to discuss the suggested change with the benefit claimant before a decision is made by the DWP. It is of vital importance that any medicine, mobility aid or prosthetic or other change that an Atos HCP might feel would improve the claimant’s chances of working should be signed off by the patients own specialist doctors and by the claimant themselves before any decision. The Atos HCP is not the claimant’s doctor, (indeed, they are usually not a doctor at all) is not knowledgeable of the claimant’s condition, and the Work Capability Assessment, by the DWP’s own admission, is not a medical assessment.

There are numerous reasons why the change that the Atos HCP suggests might not be appropriate. It is quite possible that the change might not be available in that area or at all or might involve a very long waiting list. In Worcestershire, for example, wheelchairs are not available at all to people who can stagger around their own home. Prosthetic limbs are expensive everywhere. In many cases a person may be advised not to use a wheelchair, prosthetic limb or other aid because to do so will hasten the progression of their disease. A claimant may well have tried or considered a particular change but ruled it out because of negative side effects.

Even if the change were considered by doctors and the patient, there is the huge issue of consent. This change could compel people to take up a particular medical treatment through pressure from removal of their benefits and several legal experts have suggested that this could well breach their human rights. To push ahead with this could be extremely costly for the DWP when legal cases are brought.

Even worse than the above change, the new regulations will strictly separate the impact of mental health conditions and physical health conditions. This is an absurd change which ignores the reality of illness. Many medications for mental health problems cause physical problems, and many pain drugs cause cognitive problems. Impairments caused by a problem in the other category must be taken into account.

I do hope that you will agree with me that these regulations are a serious problem and will express your opposition to them.

Sincerely,

Latentexistence

There’s a war on welfare – FIGHT BACK

Pat’s Petition took a year to accumulate 62,694 signatures asking the government to

“Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.”

Pat’s Petition has secured a debate to take place in parliament in January.

A small debate by MPs took place in Westminster Hall on the 18th of December 2012. That debate although short, was full of speeches and stories by MPs vindicating what campaigners have been telling the government for the past two years. But that debate was not enough. It was ended with a speech by “Minister for disabled people” Esther McVey which was dismissive of all that had been said, if she even listened to it.

You can view the debate below or on the Parliament website. It makes damning evidence against the Welfare Reform Act.

Now there is a new petition, the WOW Petition. It reads as follows:

WOW-splash

We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions

Responsible department: Department for Work and Pensions

We call for:

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.

Don’t wait a year to sign this petition. A hundred thousand signatures in a few days would send a strong message to government. Please sign the petition, follow @WOWpetition on Twitter and like the Facebook page.

 

Sign the WOW Petition