Guest post: What the benefit reforms will mean to us

This is a guest post by @chmasu.

In 1992 my husband, Kevin, was working as a self-employed plumber and heating engineer. We were living in a private sector rented house with our three children aged 14, 9 and 6; and I was pregnant with our fourth child. When I was in my sixth month of pregnancy Kevin sustained a severe back injury, which left him unable to walk or stand up. After a six month wait Kevin was operated on, after which he could walk upright. However it became apparent that his back was not completely healed and it transpired that there was considerable scar tissue on the nerve, causing severe pain and limiting the distance he could walk and the amount of time he could stand. This scarring and pain was, we were told, permanent.

Following a face-to-face medical examination Kevin was awarded Disability Living Allowance (DLA), initially for a year and then, after another face-to-face medical examination by a Doctor, he was given what was then called a lifetime award. This enabled him to lease a car from Motability (I am not able to drive so our previous old banger of a car had gone). He was also awarded Incapacity Benefit, also with a face-to-face medical assessment. We claimed Housing benefit to help with the rent.

Kevin was not able to return to the plumbing work for which he was qualified so it was necessary to re-train. He studied part-time at our local F.E. College and obtained a BTEC National Diploma in Computing and Electronics. Despite his severe dyslexia he passed with distinctions in all subjects and was given the prize for best student on his course. He then obtained a Diploma of Higher Education in Computing. With these quantifications he chose to stop the Incapacity Benefit, despite it having just been renewed, and return to work part-time, eventually increasing to full time. Incapacity Benefit was replaced by Disability Working Allowance (DWA). None of the study or work would have been possible without the Motability car.

Over the years the DWA was replaced by Working Tax Credit (WTC) with a Disability premium. After 10 years working as a computer repair engineer for one of Britain’s leading small computer manufacturers he was made redundant when the company folded. There followed a year of JSA interspersed with very low-paid contract work.

Eventually he was encouraged by the Jobcentre to go self-employed. He started a computer repair business in partnership with our eldest child, who was also chronically ill, and who unfortunately became too ill to work, so Kevin continues as a sole trader, working from home. There is a steady trickle of work, but not enough to provide more than a very meagre income. It was not possible to get any finance from the bank so we put into the business all the money we could muster from the redundancy payment and a small inheritance from my parents. (Incidentally this inheritance put us just over the savings limit for Housing Benefit and they deducted an amount from our payment for two years,until we could prove that we had used up all the money.) It has taken 3 years to show a very small profit, rather than a loss. We are sustained by WTC, DLA and Housing Benefit. The computer business involves driving to customers and so is dependent on the Motability car. I have the same chronic genetic illness as my children and am not able to work, but I do not claim any benefits in my own right. We have become experts at living frugally and making economies.

The future
The Benefit changes that will be affecting us in the near future are Universal Credit to replace WTC and Housing Benefit, and PIP to replace DLA. As we now live in a housing association flat we will also be affected by the ‘Bedroom Tax’ when our student daughter leaves home.

Universal Credit will be paid monthly and will be calculated according to the claimant’s weekly reporting to the DWP of hours worked and income received. According to the government website self-employed people will be assumed to have reached a ‘minimum income floor’. This figure will be used to calculate the amount of UC awarded.

“If there are no limitations on the number of hours you can work, the minimum income floor is likely to be the equivalent of you working 35 hours per week at the National Minimum Wage for your age group.”
Universal Credit and self-employment

As Kevin does not have 35 hours of work per week, and certainly does not pay himself anywhere near the national minimum wage, his self-employment will become unviable.

Kevin will eventually be migrated from DLA to PIP. With the arbitrary reduction of the walking distance which qualifies for the higher rate mobility component from 50 metres to 20 metres it is extremely likely that Kevin will lose the Motability car. This will also render his self-employment unviable as he will not be able to drive to customers. It is my dread that he will lose the benefit altogether, which will remove the ‘passport’ to disability-related premiums and possibly the Blue Badge for parking.

It is extremely unlikely that Kevin, as a 62 year-old man with dyslexia and restricted movement, will be able to find a job

So where will this leave us? Kevin may be able to qualify for ESA, probably in the work-related group. If not, he will have to claim JSA. In either case, trips to the Jobcentre will be necessary. He has no means of getting there other than by using a wheelchair. He is not able to self-propel, so I will be pushing him there. My illness restricts my walking so the wheelchair will be fulfilling the function of a Zimmer frame – there will be pain. Work-related activity is unlikely to accommodate Kevin’s disability, which may well lead to benefit sanctions. The bedroom tax will eventually be applied. Shopping will have to be by home delivery, assuming we can still afford an internet connection. Food will become more expensive when I am not able to continue my daily forays to the reduced produce shelf in the supermarket or shop around for the cheapest deals. We will not be able to afford heating. We will not be able to go anywhere without help. Holidays, visiting our grandchild, church, any kind of excursion will be unattainable. We would no longer have a life if it were not for our close family and good friends.

This is just one story of a family affected by the Government’s austerity measures; there are many more and, as in the recent protest at the House of Commons about the removal of the Independent Living Fund, we need to make our voices heard before it is too late.

This is a guest post by @chmasu.

Ingeus recruiting “Health Advisors” for DWP forced “bio-psychosocial health assessments”

Ingeus advert

Welfare-to-work provider Ingeus are recruiting Occupational Therapists to become “Health Advisors” as part of a pilot scheme to help people on ESA (sickness benefits) to return to work. As I wrote yesterday, people receiving ESA in the Work Related Activity Group will be forced to see these Health Advisors and will lose their benefits if they do not. This is a huge problem for all kinds of reasons which you can read about in my previous blog postAn advert placed by Ingeus on the website of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association reveals more details of how the scheme will work.

“From 25th November 2013 Ingeus will be delivering a new Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) Health Professional led contract for customers claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with an 18-24 month prognosis post Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The 2 year pilot programme will ensure clients have access to suitably trained Health Professionals to support the management of their health and wellbeing. We are looking to recruit Occupational Therapists to deliver the ESA pilot across the Central Region.”

It gets worse though. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the words “Bio-psychosocial model” make an appearance.

Delivering bio-psychosocial initial health assessments to identify clients health related concerns and barriers to returning to work, usually taking place via face to face 1:1 appointments but may also require telephone based interventions as well as on occasions a home/community visit.”

The Bio-Psychosocial model of disability is what the government have adopted after decades of being advised by insurance company UNUM. The model basically says that disability is all in the mind of the disabled person and they only need to adopt a better attitude to overcome barriers to work and other activities. It places blame for being ill on the patient and insists that they can just think their way better, as though thinking can eradicate viruses or fix broken genes or regrow broken or missing body parts.

I think access to an extra doctor, nurse, OT or some one else could really be a great help to a lot of sick and disabled people but not through this scheme. Any extra healthcare needs to be consensual and voluntary, this is not. The money spent on this scheme would be far more useful given to the NHS. And as for this scheme using the bio-psychosocial model, you might as well just tell sick and disabled people to “snap out of it”.

Where’s The Benefit: Models of Disability

Vocational Rehabilitation Association: Ingeus advert

Sick people to be forced to talk to the DWP’s own “healthcare professionals”

Compulsory Jobs Guarantee

Labour have announced their answer to unemployment. They have called it a “compulsory jobs guarantee”.

“A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support those who cannot, but those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as a result – no ifs or buts.” – Ed Balls

Under the scheme those who have received Job Seeker’s Allowance for two years would be sent to work for six months. The scheme would be funded by reinstating tax on income used for pension contributions. On the face of it, guaranteed work is a great idea. Providing jobs for anyone that wants them is fine with me. I see a few problems though.

  • The work will only last six months.
  • Only people unemployed for two years will get it. (At first, anyway.)
  • We have no idea what that work will be, what organisation it will be with, or if it will be meaningful work or just activity to pass the time.
  • Removal of benefits for those who do not take up this unspecified compulsory work.

The compulsion is the biggest problem to me. There are lots of reasons why this work may not be a good idea. Off the top of my head, the unemployed person may be in training towards finding a job for themselves, they may be engaged in voluntary work in their field to keep themselves employable, or, indeed, voluntary work providing valuable services, they may have been judged fit for work and removed from sickness benefits while not actually being fit enough to do the compulsory guaranteed work, they may have childcare or other carer responsibilities that their work must fit around.

I have serious reservations about what organisations this work will be for. Current schemes, commonly derided as Workfare, involve sending people on benefits to work unpaid for supermarkets and shops such as Tesco and Argos, or in charity shops. These schemes are a direct subsidy to those businesses with free labour and result in less work available for paid employees. Sending people to work for a business for six months at a time would make this situation even worse with more loss of paid jobs.

It is my belief that there are not and cannot be enough jobs available for everyone. We are able to fulfil all our needs with less than full employment, and capitalism has already got providing things that we want covered. There are places where people could find work if only funding were available – healthcare, housing, and education and all those services and public sector jobs that have been cut. Government should invest in teachers, social housing and the NHS, which would boost jobs in those fields. The so-called “culture of worklessness” is a myth, and I believe that people would happily work in those jobs.

In my ideal world we would pay every citizen enough to live on, and working for more income would be optional but until then let’s at least get some social security that isn’t based on scrounger rhetoric.

https://twitter.com/itsmotherswork/status/287097851266351104

More information

Ed Balls: Britain needs real welfare reform that is tough, fair and that works – Politics Home

Labour announce compulsory work scheme for long term unemployed – and those who refuse to take part could lose benefits – Labour List

Labour proposes ‘tough but fair’ jobs and welfare scheme – The Guardian

Recomended Reading

Why does everyone have to work? – A Latent Existence

Poor vs poorer – A Latent Existence

What might a world without work look like? – Nina Power – Comment Is Free

Are ‘cultures of worklessness’ passed down the generations? – Joseph Rowntree Foundation

 

Voters ‘brainwashed by Tory welfare myths’, shows new poll – The Independent