Category Archives: DWP

“The Hidden Agenda”: The Planned Destruction Of The Welfare State?

bs_Greetings_from_the_Welfare_State The report reproduced (with kind permission) below is a short summary of the vitally important research into the origin of the current government’s campaign against disability and incapacity benefits and the involvement of Unum (formerly UnumProvident) and ATOS.  This remarkably detailed  work was carried out over the last three years by former healthcare professional and disabled veteran, Mo Stewart*. Mo has worked relentlessly and determinedly, despite her own pain and fatigue, to bring together a vast amount of damning evidence against this cruel system which has and continues to bring misery and even death to people whose only ‘crime’ is to be chronically sick or disabled. What you are about to read below is but a tiny example of far, far more material some of which can be found on her website here or by following the links she provides in her reference list at the end of the articles.

*(Mo Stewart is a former healthcare professional, a disabled female veteran and, for the last 3 years, has researched the links between the DWP, Atos Healthcare & Unum Insurance. To date, the research evidence has been quoted during welfare debates in the House of Lords, the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall. Mo routinely shares all research evidence with academics, medical and healthcare professionals, frontline national charities, selected
politicians and service users.)

THE HIDDEN AGENDA: a research summary by Mo Stewart

(The Hidden Agenda © Mo Stewart – March 2013)

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is exclusively conducted on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the corporate giant Atos Origin IT Ltd Medical Services, better known as Atos Healthcare. This ‘non-medical assessment’ was introduced in 2008 by the Labour government, and was identified as a ‘medical examination’ to be used to identify genuine claimants for long term sickness and disability benefit. However, what was unknown at the time was the fact that the WCA was a continuation of the planned agenda of the previous Thatcher government, whose ultimate goal was the destruction of the Welfare State.(1) The WCA was promoted as a ‘fitness for work’ assessment for claimants of what was once known as Incapacity Benefit, now re-named as the Employment and Support Allowance.(ESA) In reality, in order to reduce the welfare budget, the WCA was designed to resist as many sickness benefit claims as possible regardless of confirmed and identified permanent illness or disability. By 2010 the planned DWP welfare budget reduction was deemed to be
too slow. The new Coalition Government enhanced the WCA and, following the previous Labour Government’s lead, it became much more difficult to qualify for the ESA(2) as the WCA totally disregarded diagnosis, prognosis or limited life expectancy.

Aided and abetted by the national press, using insidious press headlines to manipulate public opinion(3)(3b), the Coalition Government successfully introduced tyranny, fear and despair to the nation’s most vulnerable people, using a disability assessment model as designed in consultation with Unum [Provident] Insurance; one of the most discredited corporate insurance giants in the world.(4)(4b) At the same time, reported disability hate crimes in the United Kingdom(UK) were rising to record levels.(5) The first two years of independent research into the WCA concluded at the end of November 2011 with the
exposure of two government memorandums provided by Unum Provident Insurance.(6) Initially, the link between the UK welfare reforms and the likely move to an insurance based benefits system was identified by Baroness Tanni Gray-Thompson during the welfare reform debates in the House of Lords.(7) Nine months later, the link between Atos Healthcare and Unum Insurance was exposed by Kevin Brennan MP during debate in Westminster Hall(8) and, more recently, during an emergency Backbench Business debate in the House of Commons(HOC), Michael Meacher MP identified the possible influence of Unum Insurance with the UK Government.(9)

Of course, this destruction of the welfare state could never have been so readily achieved without the unelected former Labour adviser, David Freud. He was ennobled to permit appointment initially to the Shadow Cabinet but, following the 2010 General Election, he was appointed as the Minister for Welfare Reform for the Coalition where he has excelled. Indeed, one of Lord Freud’s most recent claims was that: “Poor people should be prepared to take more risks because they have the least to lose…”(11) Clearly, this man is yet another millionaire Minister who demonstrates no concern, and no comprehension, of human need.
The ongoing DWP medical tyranny, masquerading as welfare reform, has permitted Atos Healthcare to conduct the WCA by employing the totally discredited Bio-Psychosocial(BPS) model of disability assessment that remains free from all public accountability according to the General Medical Council and the Care Quality Commission. The BPS is the assessment model as used by Unum Insurance when assessing healthcare insurance claims, and it is also the assessment model enthusiastically promoted by Professor Sir Mansel Aylward. The Professor is the Director of the Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, initially sponsored by Unum Insurance from its inception in 2003 to 2009.

However, prior to his move to the Centre, the Professor was the DWP’s Chief Medical Officer who, in 1994, was in post when Unum Insurance was invited to become corporate ‘advisers’ to the UK government.(12) Whilst the BPS model is an interesting theory, the selective use of the BPS model of disability assessment, as used by both Unum Insurance and Atos Healthcare, was exposed long ago as an invention of the insurance industry.(13)(14) By concentrating on the psychological model of disability, to the detriment of the social model, the WCA was always destined to promote unacceptable results for many thousands of ESA claimants. In one six month period alone 37,100 people had waited up to a year to have their ESA benefit reinstated following appeal, yet no-one is asking what would have happened to these genuinely sick and disabled people if they had not had the strength to pursue their claim to appeal?(10)

Indeed, a recent Panorama documentary: ‘Disabled or Faking It’,(15) demonstrated quite categorically the dangers of the WCA with seriously ill patients, diagnosed with life threatening conditions such as heart failure and end stage emphysema, being found fit for work.(15) However, with the national press still refusing to expose the identified influence of Unum Insurance with the DWP welfare reforms, the British public remain in ignorance as the government covertly convert the UK welfare state into the American healthcare system, ultimately to be funded by private insurance.(12)(13)(14) Meanwhile, Unum Insurance is happy to continue to offer new careers to former government ‘advisers’. (16) The WCA is an American imported ‘disability assessment model’ and has no medical credibility whatsoever, as confirmed by the British Medical Association(17), yet it is enthusiastically employed by the DWP and causes devastation to those least able to protest. This ‘medical assessment’ is working very well as the thousands of genuine claimants that have either died, committed suicide, been forced into poverty due to mounting debt, or who have developed a mental health problem due to anxiety are now the disregarded victims.(10)

Many had been in receipt of Incapacity Benefit before being re-assessed by Atos Healthcare, using the fatally flawed WCA, only to fail to qualify for benefit following ‘assessment’. The Internet provides evidence to this government imposed suffering at a cost to the tax-payer of £110million per annum for the confidential Atos contract and an estimated £60 million pounds per annum, and rising, for the costs of the appeal tribunals. Yet, still, Members of Parliament (MP) continue with their very courteous and diplomatic debates(8)(9) as the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and, especially, their corporate partners all celebrate the ongoing planned destruction of the welfare state that appears to be unstoppable.

What is still disregarded is the fact that Professor Sir Mansel Aylward’s research activities were funded for six years by Unum Insurance.(12) Indeed, due to his significant contribution to the future reduction of the DWP welfare budget by promoting the use of a ‘non-medical’ assessment, the Professor was rewarded with a Knighthood for “services to disability assessment.” Therefore, his support for the BPS disability assessment model was presumed to be guaranteed. Yet, when confronted six months ago, the Professor actually confirmed that he now considered the BPS model to be “unsatisfactory” and that he believed it “no longer addresses the real needs of disabled people and the exclusion of disabled people from society”.(18) Of course, the question remains as to why there was no official DWP announcement following this amazing change of ‘expert’ professional opinion, as the entire national press totally disregarded the press release that was distributed last September following Sir Mansel’s unexpected statement. Perhaps the Professor was safe in the
knowledge that the press release would be ignored, and perhaps this is why he continues to travel widely, still lecturing about the virtues of the totally discredited BPS model of disability assessment? The most recent lecture was at the Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference in Birmingham, from 5th-6th March 2013,(19) where Professor Sir Mansel Aylward was listed as a keynote speaker on the subject of: The New Public Health Agenda: Its Impact on Health and Wellbeing at Work. Given the title of his speech, one can only presume that the Professor has yet to advise other professionals of his reported change of expert opinion.(18)

This is how the UK welfare state will be destroyed. There is a BPS ‘expert’ in place, and an American corporate insurance giant has influenced the UK Government to totally disregard human suffering, in favour of a reduced welfare budget, using an identified bogus ‘medical assessment’. Unum Insurance have begun their mass marketing to encourage able bodied members of the British public to invest in their ‘Income Protection Insurance’ or their ‘Back-up Plan,’ that’s only available via the workplace, and these are the healthcare insurance policies that the company has historically tried very hard to resist funding when a claim is made.(20)(21) Given that the unacceptable practice of Unum Insurance was previously exposed by MPs during a House of Commons debate in 1999(22), the question remains as to why was this highly discredited American corporate insurance giant ever permitted to influence UK welfare reforms and why the national press, en masse, refuse to expose this insurance company’s confirmed influence despite it being identified by a BBC News report in 2007?(23)

The recent exposure of a 2005 internal Unum report, that actively boasted that the company was ‘driving government thinking’ regarding the reform of Incapacity Benefit (24) leads to the much more sinister possibility that the DWP are simply administrators of these brutal welfare reforms, and that the perpetrators of the devastation caused to the victims of this UK government funded medical tyranny are, in fact, Unum Insurance. Michael O’Donnell was the author of the 2005 internal Unum report that was written when he was the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for Unum Insurance. Michael O’Donnell is now the CMO for Atos Healthcare…..

The difficulty remains that no-one is asking the relevant questions. Perhaps MPs should be asking the Prime Minister why he’s been funded by ‘healthcare companies’ to the value of £750,000(27) since he became Prime Minister (25) or why every report produced by the President of the Appeal Tribunals, all of which identified the Atos Healthcare WCA assessments as “failing to coincide with reality”, was totally disregarded by the DWP? (12)
Until and unless more significant questions are asked in the House of Commons, victims of this government funded medical nightmare will be forced to turn to the law for help, just as in America.(26)

Until and unless the national press demonstrate that the UK really does benefit from a free press, and not a government controlled press, the most vulnerable of all British people will continue to suffer and the British public will continue to be deceived.(12)

References:
1) Margaret Thatcher’s role in plan to dismantle welfare state revealed:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/28/margaret-thatcher-role-plan-to-dismantle-welfare-state-revealed
(2) Cuts to UK benefits: http://www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/type/text/cuts-to-uk-benefits.html
(3) ‘Ello, John, got a new Motability motor? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2047593/Motability-schemes-starting-resemble- worst-excesses-Arthur-Daley-.html
(3b) Half a million incapacity benefit claimants are fit for work, Government’s own figures show: Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2115476/A-incapacity-benefit-claimants-fit-work-Government-s-OWN-figures show. html#axzz2JqkmNFAR
(4) New York Attorney General Spitzer’s ruling: http://www.insure.com/articles/healthinsurance/unum-settlement.html
(4b) The Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America – The American Association of Justice
http://www.justice.org/docs/tenworstinsurancecompanies.pdf
(5) Hate crimes against disabled people soar to a record high:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/hate-crimes-against-disabled-people-soar-to-a-record-level-7858841.html
(6) The truth behind welfare reforms: http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosveteransreport20111120.html
(7) BnsTanni Gray-Thompson: House of Lords, welfare reforms
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/110913-0002.htm
(8) Private Members’ Debate: Atos Healthcare: 4th Sept 2012
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120904/halltext/120904h0001.htm
(9) Backbench Business: Atos Work Capability Assessment debate: 17th Jan 2013
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130117/debtext/130117-0002.htm
(10) British people are committing suicide to escape poverty. Is this what the State wants?
http://poultonblog.dailymail.co.uk/2012/03/people-are-choosing-suicide-to-escape-poverty-is-this-the-states- final-solution.html
(11) Lord Freud’s welfare ‘lifestyle’ comments show ‘nasty party is back’, say Labour:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9698985/Lord-Freuds-welfare-lifestyle-comments-show-nasty-party-is-back-say-Labour.html
(12) Government use might of American insurance giant to destroy UK welfare safety net – update 27th Oct : http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosveteransreport20121027.html
(13) An academic responds to statement by Prof Aylward:
http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/09/18/dwpatosunum-scandal-an-academic-responds-with-disbelief-to-professor-aylwardsstatement- to-black-triangle-and-dpac-outside-the-ifdm2012-conference-on-11th-september-2012/
(14) A Tale of Two Models: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/jolly/A%20Tale%20of%20two%20Models%20Leeds1.pdf
(15) Panorama: Disabled or Faking It?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01lldrc/Panorama_Disabled_or_Faking_It/
(16) Peter Dewis: Steppin’ Sideways from Government to Unum:
http://downwithallthat.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/peter-dewis-steppin-sideways-from-government-to-unum/
(17) GPs call for work capability assessment to be scrapped:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/may/23/gps-work-capability-assessment-scrapped
(18) Former DWP medical boss makes WCA pledge to protesters:
http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2012/09/former-dwp-medical-boss-makes-wca-pledge-to-protesters/
(19) Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference, NEC Birmingham: http://www.healthatwork2013.co.uk/
(20) “The denial on the part of Unum in the Mondolo case appears to mirror denials of other Unum disability claims historically, going back several years. To that end, the Court noted Unum’s history of biased claims administration.” (MARCH 2013)
http://www.lawyersandsettlements.com/articles/first_unum/unum-lawsuit-insurance-disability-claims-12-18506.html?utm_expid=3607522-
0&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lawyersandsettlements.com%2Flegal-news-articles%2Fcase%2Ffirst_unum%2F
(21) CBS News 60 minutes: DID INSURER CHEAT DISABLED CLIENTS:
(see below)
(22) Permanent Health Insurance debate, Westminster Hall, 21st December 2009
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmhansrd/vo991221/halltext/91221h01.htm#91221h01_head0
(23) BBC Ten ‘o Clock News report: 6th Nov 2007 http://www.meactionuk.org.uk/UNUM_on_BBC_News_061107.wmv (BBC NEWS report – video)
(24) Unum bragged about ‘driving government thinking’ on incapacity benefit reform:
http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2013/02/unum-bragged-about-driving-government-thinking-on-incapacity-benefit-reform/
(25) MPs’ links are so unhealthy: http://www.express.co.uk/comment/expresscomment/378233/MPs-links-are-so- unhealthy
(26) High Court rules Work Capability Assessment arguably unlawful:
http://disabilitynewsservice.com/2012/07/victory-in-first-stage-of-fitness-for-work-court-case/
(27) NHS reform leaves Tory backers with links to private healthcare firms set for bonanza:
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/nhs-reform-leaves-tory-backers-105302

images (1) Now watch the US video below (referenced above) and compare what is being described with what people are experiencing here in Britain at the hands of the DWP and its sidekick ATOS…chilling?

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UK On Fast Track to Third World Status Says US Commentator.

not interested      He’s not interested in …

_69113648_69113647  the living conditions of people living here…

He caused them but he doesn’t have to put up with them.  

Read what an American observer thinks of Breadline Britain… 

 

 

Force-Fed UK Austerity

By Stephen Lendman
4-11-13

Since 2008, America, Britain and other European nations force-fed austerity harshness. Neoliberal and imperial priorities take precedence.

Bankers, war profiteers, other corporate favorites, and privileged elites alone benefit. Ordinary people lose out entirely. Public needs go begging. Human misery grows. Things go from bad to worse. Nothing ahead looks promising.

Britain made things harder. Parliament imposed the largest welfare cuts in modern times. More on them below.

They come when Prime Minister David Cameron wants UK nuclear defenses upgraded. He wants billions of pounds spent doing so. He claims Britain faces threats that don’t exist. An “ultimate weapon” is needed, he says.

His Daily Telegraph op-ed headlined “We need a nuclear deterrent more than ever,” saying:

(A)s prime minister, with ultimate responsibility for the nation’s security, I profoundly disagree with” naysayers. The “nuclear threat has not gone away.”

“My judgment is that it would be foolish to leave Britain defenceless against a continuing, and growing, nuclear threat.”

Saying so defies reason. Wanting billions of pounds spent on what’s not needed reflects deception writ large. Britain’s FY 2014 budget allocates 44.7 billion pounds for defense.

Billions go for nuclear deterrence. Cameron wants billions more. It’s worth the cost, he says. No cheaper options exist, he claims.

He wants Brits to think wasteful spending will protect Britain from nuclear attacks. Estimates run up to 20 billion pounds. It reflects multi-year spending.

At the same time, he supports massive welfare cuts. They come when Queen Elizabeth got a five million pound pay increase. In FY 2013-14, she’ll receive 36.1 million pounds (around $54 million). It’s up from 31 million last year.

She gets regular pay increases. They come from the Crown Estate. Its properties are worth eight billion pounds.

She’ll now receive 15% of their profits. In 2011-12, they earned 240.2 million pounds.

The Queen claims she needs the money. Royal priorities aren’t cheap. Annual expenses keep rising. She’s having a hard time making ends meet.

She’s dismissive about ordinary people’s suffering. It’s their problem, not hers. Let ’em eat cake doesn’t wash. A former monarch learned the hard way.

Tough times keep getting tougher. Ordinary Brits struggle to get by. Britain’s coalition government made things harder. On April 3, Russia Today headlined “UK govt imposes avalanche of cuts,” saying:

Low-income and financially vulnerable families will be hit hardest. Opposition Labour MPs called new cuts announced “the beginning of ‘Black April.’ ” It’s hard imagining why. They’re as neoliberal as Tories.

From June 2007 – May 2010, Gordon Brown was prime minister. Austerity began on his watch. Budget cuts hit ordinary Brits hardest. Brown said “Labour will cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes, and cut lower priority budgets.”

He targeted public sector worker wages, pensions and other benefits. At the same time, Britain spent 94% of its GDP on bank bailouts. It amounted to taxing every Brit about 30,000 pounds.

Labour and Tories conspire against ordinary people. Austerity is policy. So are harsh welfare cuts. Imposed them inflicts enormous hardships. Earlier amounts totaled tens of billions of pounds. In January, another 14.2 billion were announced.

New ones are toughest of all. Britain’s Baptist Union called them “unjust (forcing) the most vulnerable (to) pay a disproportionate price.”

Methodist Church Public Issues Policy Adviser Paul Morrison said they “make April fools of us all.”

“We are witnessing what happens when we create a culture that blames poor people for their poverty.”

“It is a lie to say that most people on benefits are lazy, that they have an easy life or that they are responsible for the nation’s financial deficit.”

“When people are willing to believe those lies, poor families pay the highest price.”

At the same time, wealthy elites got a tax cut. In late March, Britain slashed its 50% top rate to 40%. Corporations got a 1% cut.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s “granny tax” left around five million middle-class pensioners up to 323 pounds worse off. It’s when they most need help. They face other harsh budget cutting measures.

Welfare benefits will be cut another 10 billion pounds by 2016. On average, around 18 million Brits will lose 500 pounds annually. Billions more welfare cuts were announced earlier. Where this ends who knows.

Cameron wants public spending cut 5.3%. Expect more cuts to follow. Since financial crisis conditions erupted in 2008, one in 10 Brits lost their jobs.

The latest measures are worst of all. They include a new “bedroom” tax. It’s on local council and housing association tenants. They get housing benefits.

Recipients claimed to have a “spare” bedroom face cuts totaling 14%. Those with two “spare” ones lose 25%. Britain calls the measure an “under-occupancy penalty.”

Imposing it seeks to encourage more efficient social housing use. It inflicts enormous harm on vulnerable households. Expect more ahead hitting them harder. It’s coming in waves. One measure leads to others. Like America, Britain’s heading for third world status.

Hundreds of thousands of people are affected. Many will become homeless. Britain’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne said the new bedroom tax will “end up costing more than it saves as tenants are forced to go homeless or move into the expensive private renter sector.”

Around 90,000 households are affected. Less than 4,000 smaller homes can accommodate them. In April, “personal independence  payments (PIPs)” replace disability living allowances.

Private consulting and information technology services firm ATOS will assess whether benefit claimants can work. It’ll be paid up to one billion pounds to do so. In the past, it claimed stroke victims were fit to work.

ATOS aims to remove another 500,000 claimants from benefit rolls. Doing so will throw many of them in the street. They’ll risk losing out entirely.

New Health and Social Care Act legislation affects them. Enactment reverses 1946 free, universal National Health Service care. Government no longer has a legal duty to provide it.

Newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) now have a “duty to arrange” what used to be mandated. Doing so shifts costs on the backs of vulnerable Brits least able to afford them. Commercializing healthcare lets predatory private profiteers take full advantage.

Combining austerity with welfare cuts heads Britain for third world status. Poverty and unemployment will rise further. So will public anger. On March 30, protesters targeted London’s Trafalgar Square.

Unionists joined anti-poverty campaigners, the disabled, homemakers and others.

Simultaneous gatherings were held in cities and towns nationwide. Thousands turned out in Glasgow. “Axe the bedroom tax,” signs read. One protestor spoke for others, saying:

“We won’t forget what they are doing to working class people.”

Another said:

“They have just shut the soup kitchen in Waltham Forest despite having a real problem with homelessness. I’m a working single parent. Now I’ve a tiny boxroom, and I’m faced with the choice between food, heat or paying the ‘bedroom tax.’ ”

At issue are numerous other cuts. Expect new ones to follow those announced. More recent ones began last October. Dozens of imposed changes were made. They include:

 

cutting support for mortgage interest from 6.08% – 3.63%;

 

scrapping the Child Trust Fund;

 

reducing the Council Tax benefit;

 

ending the Health in Pregnancy grant;

 

abolishing the Disability Living Allowance;

 

cutting legal aid;

 

freezing the Child Benefit and Working Tax Credit for low-income workers; and

 

much more implemented from October 10 through mid-April.

Making ordinary Brits bear burdens they can’t afford is policy. Expect new imposed hardships ahead. Tories and Labour are in lockstep. It bears repeating. Britain’s heading toward third world status. It’s on a fast track toward getting there.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Pride Comes Before A Fall: Problems With Universal Credit Could Leave IDS With Egg On His Face.

Fee-for-use-Iain-Duncan-Smith-1797134 In yesterday’s Observer Iain Duncan Smith once again boasted about how proud he was of his precious welfare reforms. Instead of addressing the very real and totally legitimate criticisms of his performance so far he pointed to the fact that the DWP had delivered their programme of torture on time:-

… we already have a proud record of achievement… We promised a benefit cap and it began, on time, in April in four London areas. It will be completely rolled out by September. We introduced the new personal independence payment as planned and on time. Automatic enrolment started last year, and now 1 million people have been registered into a workplace pension. People are using our Universal Jobmatch website for more than 5m job searches a day. Our Work Programme has launched and the industry tells us that so far 321,000 people have found a job through it.I am proud of this record.

sick  How any decent, sane human being can ignore the thousands of lives that have been devastated by his policies or refuse to acknowledge the deaths and suicides that can be directly linked to his actions is totally beyond my comprehension. Why a newspaper like the Observer gave him the space to make those comments is also a  mystery to me. And his refusal to undertake an impact assessment of the effect he’s had on the lives of disabled people simply shows that he doesn’t want to know. The only conclusion you can draw from this is that he’s irresponsible, unprofessional and should never be allowed to ‘serve’ as a politician again.

shoes But as usual the odious Mr Smith is not giving us the true picture about the DWP’s performance when it comes to the progress of Universal Credit. There are huge problems with it. Two aspects stand out here. The first is to do with their badly thought through devotion to ‘digital by default’. This report from Public Net published today shows that the DWP have overestimated the number of people who will be able to claim the benefit online. The potential for chaos is tremendous.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT PILOTS REVEAL CHALLENGES FACING BENEFIT CLAIMANTS

Headlines: July 29th, 2013

Many benefit claimants will struggle to meet the requirement of the new welfare arrangements which are due to be introduced from October 2013 with the launch of universal credit. Pilot schemes started last year by councils have revealed the scale of the difficulty many claimants will experience.

Universal credit will require all claimants to submit claims on line. Although 86 per cent of the UK population have access to the internet, the pilots have found that in the case of benefit claimants it is closer to 60 percent. Theoretically claimants can use facilities in libraries to submit claims, but they don’t visit libraries and they need support to cope with the technology and with the benefit processes. Some pilots are experimenting with providing access points in council premises and with staff on hand to support the claimants. Other pilots are exploring various approaches to improving access but have found it difficult to encourage take up.

Universal credit will roll up all benefits into a single payment which will be made directly to the claimant. This will meant that currently where some housing benefit is paid to landlords, in future it will be paid directly to the claimant. The pilots have revealed that many social housing tenants have problems with debt and rent arrears which might compound possible problems with personal budgeting.

Some councils have found a reluctance from customers to take part in budgeting and financial training in group sessions. It is thought the reluctance is due to the stigma of engaging in sessions which may highlight personal debt and rent arrears issues. The uptake of group financial education sessions in some authorities has been so low that sessions have been cancelled. This evidence is mirrored in the Direct Payment Demonstration Pilot areas.

Different approaches are being used to support personal budget management. They include sessions in smaller community groups and collaborating with partner organisations. Changing the welfare culture, which universal credit seeks to achieve, is a mammoth undertaking and it raises issues which must be addressed to bring success. While solutions to the problems are available, they will need time and funding on a scale which has probably not been foreseen in the implementation plan.

global race  The second report is potentially more damaging since it concerns the IT system that’s being developed to allow Universal Credit to be calculated. Because it combines all previous benefits into one package claimant information has to be gathered from HMRC systems and the system used by local authorities to calculate Housing Benefit. It seems they’ve messed up and now need to start from scratch. With the next roll out due in only two month’s time (October) its looking increasingly unlikely that even the six centres that are earmarked for the next stage will be able to cope. These computing problems were highlighted earlier in the year but in typical IDS fashion our SoS shrugged them off and refused to acknowledge that his ‘baby’ wouldn’t be born on time. Again Public Net have the story:-

UNIVERSAL CREDIT AMBER RED-RATING VINDICATED

Headlines: July 15th, 2013

Last year’s Government review conclusion that the Universal Credit project should be rated as amber/red because its successful delivery was in doubt and urgent action was needed, has been proved to be correct. Current trialling of the system with simple claims has revealed failings and there is to be a new design for dealing with the more complex claims.

Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

The Universal Credit project is being tested in 2 areas of the north-west, with another 2 starting later this month. The pathfinder trial is restricted to new claimants who are specially selected. Despite this narrowing of usage, it is understood that significant manual input by officials is required to verify accuracy and deal with other problems.

This assessment of the pathfinder is supported by the announcement that the next stage of development in October will be restricted to 6 additional job centres. The original project plan was for all new claims for out-of-work support to be treated as claims to universal credit from October 2013.

A potentially more serious aspect of the project is how the system interacts with Real Time Data System which includes information about earnings of claimants from HMRC. It appears that this element of the system design has been scrapped and it is now ‘back to the drawing board’. The official line about this re-think is that there is a need to explore enhancing the IT for Universal Credit working with the Government Digital Service.

The need for a re-think is unsurprising, because the universal credit system design was completed prior to the emergence of the Real Time Data System. Pressing on with the system design without knowing what the final integration requirements would be, involved many assumptions. This was a high risk strategy which proved unsustainable.

Re-writing this element of the system will take time and the trialing of in work claims cannot start until it is possible to use information from the Real Time Data System. Getting the IT system to perform effectively is only one of the major risks to the success of the project. The cultural transformation involving claimants moving to a digital service will be difficult to achieve. In a move to promote this transformation 20,000 Job centre Plus advisers will be involved in a training scheme and ten pilots will test how to best encourage claimants to progress in work.

6a00d8341d417153ef0133f5d6b4ef970b-550wi   Mr Smith’s plans to get everyone including the terminally ill and profoundly disabled working to make Cameron’s pipe dream of winning the ‘global race’ come true seem to be nothing more than pie in the sky. The tragedy is by pursuing their hopeless policies this government are causing misery and death.

Tower Hamlets’ Council Speaks for All LA’s About DWP Failings

_52802919_52802918 Back in February this year the London Borough of Tower Hamlets submitted evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee outlining the difficulties it was having in supporting vulnerable families who were suffering the impact of welfare reforms. Their evidence is reproduced below, It speaks for all Local Authorities struggling to cope with the fallout of Iain Duncan Smith’s precious baby, welfare reform.

Housing-Crisis-Continues-001 Tower Hamlets was dubbed an ‘Islamic Republic’ by the Telegraph back in 2010 after it elected  Lutfur Rahman as mayor. In a 2012 local election the Tories expressed concern that that there had been vote rigging and electoral fraud.

1315088493-edl-fail-to-demonstrate-in-tower-hamlets--london_815479 Perhaps because Tower Hamlets has a big Muslim community it has been a magnet for extreme right wing groups such as the English Defence League whose recent attempt to hold a rally in the borough was thankfully successfully blocked by concerned residents of all creeds. Its a close knit community and a community that is suffering badly thanks to benefit caps and bedroom tax. In this sense it has a lot in common with many more Local Authority areas in the UK so the evidence its councillors presented to the Select Committee could have come from anywhere in the country. Here’s what Tower Hamlets said,

HC 833 Implementation of Welfare Reform by Local Authorities

Written submission from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (IWR 49)

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets welcomes the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry on the implementation of welfare reform by local authorities, and the opportunity to respond.

As Service Head for Corporate Strategy and Equality I oversee the Tower Hamlets Welfare Reform Task Group. This Task Group brings together officers from across Council departments, including Housing Options and Benefits, as well as health partners, advice agencies, housing providers and Job Centre Plus.

The close working of this group allows us to stay abreast of all critical developments around welfare reform and ensures we are able to work across the partnership. It also allows us to draw on a wide range of expertise and experience, from how we inform our residents to monitoring the impact of the changes.

Our submission reflects the expertise across the Welfare Reform Task Group and although I am its primary author, I credit the work of my colleagues in enabling us to submit this comprehensive response.

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Inner London, and Tower Hamlets in particular, are particularly impacted by welfare reform due to high housing costs, low wages relative to the cost of living and barriers to employment.

1.2 The Council and its partners have real concerns that for some families the impact will be increased hardship which is likely to increase pressure on already stretched public and voluntary services locally.

1.3 In particular, we are not sure that the potential impact of a policy such as the national cap, unrelated to local rent levels, on high rent areas such as inner London has been fully considered.

1.4 The somewhat arbitrary nature of the cap, impacting those on sickness benefits, or those caring for them, and those exempt from seeking work due to responsibilities for young children as well as those fit for and seeking work, is a particular concern.

1.5 Our evidence is that it does have a differential impact on black and minority ethnic and female-headed households and that its equality impact should be further reviewed with this in mind.

1.6 We also have concerns about how the impact of the benefit cap on council finances, both directly through our duty to those who are found homeless, and indirectly through the pressure that increased hardship or forced moves amongst families, will put on services such as schools, social care, health and mental health provision, amongst others. Whilst difficult to quantify at this time, it will be important to explore further whether these new pressures and the impact it will have on the 1600 households and nearly 5000 children, will outweigh any savings achieved by the cap.

1.7 Other changes such as the localisation of Council Tax Support and localisation of the Social Fund will bring additional administrative burdens to the Council. It is difficult to see how devolving these very similar processes and having them run separately within separate authorities, potentially requiring a myriad of new IT systems and processes, can be cost effective overall.

1.8 More generally, we have been disappointed in the quality of information and guidance that has been forthcoming from the DWP in enabling us to deal effectively with these changes. Greater sharing of information about those to be affected or, in the case of the Social Fund about current caseloads and recipients, would have helped us prepare better for these new burdens.

1.9 Within these difficult circumstances, we have found real commitment within our authority and amongst our partners in registered housing providers, third sector advice agencies, health and Job Centre Plus, in working with us to ensure the implementation of these changes is as smooth as possible and that those affected are informed and supported to prepare. The extent of work we have done in this field has been identified as amongst the most comprehensive in London and we would like to take this opportunity to share with the Committee this material which is all available on our local Council website atwww.towerhamlets.gov.uk/welfarereform

Finance

2. Are local authorities being allocated sufficient resources to deliver services such as localised Council Tax Support and advice to claimants on Universal Credit?

2.1 We have significant concerns that sufficient resources are not being allocated to support this major change to the welfare system. Indeed resources are being cut back.

2.2 Reductions in funding include:

· 10% plus cut in award funding for Council Tax Support (CTS)

· DWP has recently informed the council that Housing Benefit (HB) / Council Tax Benefit (CTB) admin funding will be cut by almost £500,000 for 2013/2014. (Circular HB/CTB A5/20012)

2.3 In addition, there are significant other resource pressures:

· We believe there is a risk of significant further reduction in Government admin subsidy funding to local authorities.

· The rationale for this would be that local authority admin requirements would reduce in line with the number of HB claims lost to Universal Credit. However, our analysis in Tower Hamlets shows that there will not be a significant reduction in caseload and assessments when HB migrates to UC.

· We also currently operate a joint HB/CTB processing system and the complexity of CTS assessments will remain on par with CTB assessment (and possibly more complicated).

· We therefore doubt that significant savings in respect of admin will be realised.

2.4 Lack of clarity about future funding: Considering the new burdens being faced by local authorities through the implementation of the various welfare reforms, it is yet unclear whether:

· The CLG / DWP have undertaken an analysis of the resource pressures and new burdens local authorities are facing and will continue to face.

· Funds will be made available to reflect this additional resource requirement, what the rationale for the apportionment would be and how much local authorities will be allocated.

3. Are there financial risks to local authorities from Welfare Reform changes? Are such risks being adequately addressed?

3.1 Benefits Cap: The most significant resource challenge for local authorities, primarily those in London, will not be the implementation of localised council tax support or advice on Universal Credit, but mitigating, as much as possible, the severe impact of the Benefits Cap.

3.2 Based on DWP scan data around 1600 households in Tower Hamlets will have a shortfall in benefit payments following the introduction of the cap. The average loss will be £103 per week (£6,706 per annum). The households affected include nearly 5000 children who will be impacted, at threat of losing their homes.

3.3 Tower Hamlets has implemented a number of actions to mitigate the impact of the cap including:

· Borough wide awareness campaigns of the changes

· Personalised joint housing options / employment advice visits to every household who is at ‘high’ and ‘medium’ risk

· A series of high profile drop in roadshow events (“Money Matters Month”) providing advice to over 600 residents in one month

· A short welfare reform video, booklet and practitioners guide

· Ongoing training for council, housing provider and partnership staff

· A rich number of resources for residents and practitioners on our website: www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/welfarereform

3.4 Despite these activities, we still envisage a large impact on a significant number of households across the borough.

3.5 In Tower Hamlets some of the biggest losers are black and minority ethnic families and single parent households, usually headed by women. We have concerns about the extent to which the equalities impact of this policy was fully assessed and considered before implementation.

3.6 Our biggest concern is about the human impact of this change on some of our most vulnerable residents. There will also be consequent financial risks to the local authority which include:

· Cost to the local economy: Based on DWP scan data the estimated total loss to Tower Hamlets residents in lost benefit payments due to the cap will be approximately £8.5m per annum which will have a serious impact on the affected households. As spending patterns are not entirely clear, it is difficult to calculate what percentage of this loss will be felt in the local economy, but the overall loss is likely to be significant, potentially exacerbating depressed demand, increasing debt and reducing local economic growth.

· Temporary accommodation costs: There are currently 450 households living temporary accommodation due to homelessness who will be affected by the cap. The Housing Benefit lost to these claimants has been calculated to be £3.27m per annum. The Council has a duty to house these residents. Tower Hamlets Council will be forced to meet these costs unless able to find alternative and less costly housing options for these families.

· Lack of affordable housing options: There are no private rented options within the borough or within most of the neighbouring boroughs which will be affordable to families affected by the benefits cap. The average rent for a two bedroom property in the Tower Hamlets is £350 per week, and a four bedroom is £524 per week as of March 2012, in itself over the £500 per week cap. The Council will therefore have little choice but to consider rehousing homeless families outside of the borough, and potentially some distance from families, disrupting communities, schools and support networks.

· Increase in homelessness: On top of those families already homeless and in temporary accommodation, there are a further 460 households currently in the private sector who will be affected by the cap. The average shortfall for these families is £104 per week (very slightly above the £103 average for all types of dwelling. The loss for those in the private sector is above a £79 average weekly shortfall for those renting in Housing Association dwellings and below the £143 shortfall for families in homeless accommodation). They are unlikely to be able to negotiate lower rent levels with their landlords or find alternative local housing solutions. Many will find themselves in rent arrears and subject to eviction, leading to further homelessness applications to the Council.

· The cost of rehousing: There is a massive human cost in re-housing families out of the borough – with the loss of support networks and community ties. There are also potential hidden financial costs to the public purse which may outweigh benefits savings. For example, many provide or rely on informal care from families and these costs may in future fall to the state. Allocating new schools, new GPs, new addresses, new practitioner contacts and of course new housing are all additional costs relating to rehousing some of the most vulnerable residents in society.

· Increased demand for emergency support: Those affected by the cap will face the sharp dilemma of paying their rent or feeding their families and heating their homes. Local authorities who will from April be delivering the Social Fund face a potential significant increase in demand for these, and for other payments including child care costs and discretionary housing payments. Our whole Localised Social Fund budget is currently £1.4m compared to an estimated benefit shortfall of £8.5 million. There are also additional administrative costs related to the localised Social Fund which each individual council is having to bear, calling into question the efficiency and rationale of devolving the Social Fund.

3.7 Planning for these risks is hampered by:

· Lack of information and funds from CLG / DWP making it difficult for Tower Hamlets to plan accordingly for the forthcoming changes, and to enable us to attempt to maintain the current level of service provision

· The timetable for implementation is too tight to ensure enough support is given to residents to cope with changes – both rehousing and finding employment solutions for vulnerable residents take time.

· There has been little or no information about the historic demand for Social Fund payments (i.e. who is demanding what and why) making planning and effective delivery of the new Localised Social Fund more challenging and less efficient.

Housing

4. How will the separation of the administration of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit affect claimants?

4.1 LBTH, like most Local Authorities are committed to maintaining a seamless service in respect of both Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support, whist the Council retains responsibility for the administration of HB.

4.2 This is being achieved in the following ways:

· Initially involving the retention of a single application form and joint HB/CTB processing via integrated ICT processing systems which issue separate award notifications.

· In addition to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit the application form also incorporates an application for education and welfare benefits.

· Currently recipients of ESA(IR), IS, and JSA(IB) are passported to full HB/CTB without LA’s having to enquire further regarding any other income they may have. However, the inclusion of Housing Benefit within Universal Credit and the fact that it is impossible to separate and disregard the Housing Cost element of the final Universal Credit award, means that “passporting” will not be possible and this is likely to complicate the Council Tax Support assessment process.

4.3 Local Authorities will have significant difficulty replicating the passported provision inherent in the current HB and CTB schemes. This means that a relatively streamlined, joined-up process currently faced by claimants is likely to be significantly complicated in the future.

4.4 It is also likely to increase the assessment requirement for Council Tax Support – meaning claimants will have to complete separate forms and provide information to both the DWP and to the Council.

4.5 Universal Credit is being designed to be One Benefit and One Payment and CTB local schemes are likely to closely resemble the benefits incorporated within UC. The rationale for operating a local CTS scheme independent of Universal Credit has therefore not been made clear.

5. How significant an issue is housing benefit fraud under the proposed new system and what measures are being taken to address it?

5.1 Tower Hamlets has a number of mechanisms in place to prevent fraud. The investigations team works closely with other agencies including other departments within our council, other councils, the Department for Work and Pensions, the police and members of the public to ensure incidents of fraud are continuously addressed.

5.2 The committee may want to consider how media coverage remains overwhelmingly negative with regards to those receiving benefit payments. A report by Turn2us, part of the poverty charity Elizabeth Finn, illustrates the level of disinformation here [1] . This amount of disinformation can have a negative impact on the quality of the debate on welfare reform, and the subsequent solutions to challenges around welfare.

6. Are there sufficient safeguards to protect social landlords from financial harm resulting from the payment of housing benefit direct to claimants?

6.1 Social landlords have considerable concerns about the payment of benefit direct to claimants.  Residents as well as their landlords will face considerable pressures as a result. The full scale of the impact has not yet been clarified – the pilots have not reported in sufficient detail to be able to take a view on the risk to rental income and that in itself is a worry. However, there are some key areas where social landlords do have concerns:

6.2 Impact on Landlords

· The increase in transaction costs decreases provider income which is used to invest in homes and services.  That income will instead be paid to the companies such as AllPay or the Post Office or the banks who facilitate the transactions.

· Feedback from partner landlords suggests that all are increasing the resources we spend on supporting residents and chasing arrears – at the expense of improving homes and services to residents – this is on top of the pressure on income should arrears start to increase

· We still don’t know how the courts will view arrears cases which are as a result of these changes – guidance to the courts from the Government would be useful.

· We would suggest that the level of arrears necessary to trigger a direct payment needs to be low enough such that there is a realistic prospect of the arrears being paid in a reasonable timescale and servicing the arrear is not significantly onerous on the tenant.

6.3 Impact on claimants

· Many of our residents are vulnerable to financial abuse, from legal and illegal lenders – we will need to provide additional services to identify and support these residents as otherwise this cash will be diverted to their abusers and we will end up pursuing arrears. Locally, we have a financial inclusion network which is seeking a range of ways to increase local people’s skills in managing money and avoiding debt, but the level of change associated with welfare reform is likely to significantly increase demand on these resources.

· Once direct payments are introduced, many residents may also be more open to abuse from family members and acquaintances. With the payment going to the notional head of household it will put many already vulnerable residents – particularly but not exclusively women – more dependent on their abusers and so more trapped in abusive relationships with the associated risks. Residents are also considering moving back in with abusive family members as a consequence of falling incomes because of the cap.

· We would suggest that the Committee seriously consider recommending a change to this aspect of the policy, specifically where a tenant wants to have their rent paid direct to their landlord they should be able to request this at the outset.  If it is an informed choice then we do not see how this would undermine the Government’s publicised intent that people should take responsibility for their finances.

Employment

7. What impact have Welfare to Work schemes had, or are likely to have, on the numbers of benefit claimants?

7.1 Our contact with our affected families in temporary accommodation, coupled with discussions with Job Centre Plus, local employment support agencies and housing providers have stated that the overwhelming majority of those affected by the cap and not in work are unlikely to be able to move easily into work.

7.2 This is often because of childcare responsibilities and/or childcare costs make it financially unviable for lower earners. Nearly half (46%) of those affected by the cap in Tower Hamlets are single parents. Many of these have children under 5 and thus are not expected, even within new stricter job seeking rules, to be available for work.

7.3 Other residents have poor health and are receiving Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance in reflection of this.

7.4 In the move from IB to ESA the Government has itself recognised that assisting long term claimants of sickness benefits is a long term approach which needs to be accompanied by training and support. There is no quick fix which will enable employment options to be realistic for those affected by the cap on implementation in April next year.

7.5 Often part time work is a useful option for those moving back into work following ill-health – but part time options below 24 hours will not exempt people from the benefits cap.

7.6 Even where those affected are available and looking for work, the lack of job opportunities, particularly in a job market hit by recession means finding employment is not a simple solution. In addition, many residents lack relevant competencies, which require significant additional investment in training and skills.

Other

8. Is the guidance available to local authorities from central government on implementing welfare reform adequate? Are there areas where more or better guidance is required?

8.1 In general, we have been disappointed about the level of information and guidance available to local authorities to implement these reforms. This includes:

8.2 A lack of information on the progress being made on Universal Credit implementation and likely timescales

8.3 A lack of information on the level of contingency funding available to help offset the impact of the reforms.

8.4 A lack of accurate information about numbers affected – the DWP scan produced to identify residents likely to be affected by the cap, appears to be flawed as it is not based on current data. We have received three different scans each with different numbers and names of those affected. We have worked with the DWP on these issue, but to help us identify errors with the scan it would be helpful if DWP were to publish their assessment formulae.

8.5 A lack of information with regard to local Social Fund administration – in particular DWP were extremely slow to publish statistics regarding current administration of the Social Fund and although figures have now been published on the DWP website, we feel it would be beneficial to visit the local DWP centre which processes Social Fund applications from LBTH residents. However, our requests have been refused, which is a pity as we feel this would be of more practical use than the regional and generalised Social Fund seminars being conducted by DWP.

8.6 DWP HB/CTB Circulars are less frequent and HB Direct does not provide the level of guidance we are seeking.

Methodology:

9. Is the Government’s timetable for implementing Welfare Reform achievable?

9.1 We believe it will be exceptionally difficult. The DWP have only recently set up specialist teams to deliver the benefits cap which will involve merging benefit streams to calculate the total. Effective UC delivery is likely to require the integration with HMRC’s RTI system, but developments on this have not been forthcoming

10. What evidence is there that local authorities are able to use effectively existing services or contracts for the delivery of new local Social Fund schemes

10.1 The new work to operate the Social Fund for Tower Hamlets will require additional claim handling and assessment staff and new systems. Workload planning is hampered by the lack of recent detailed information from DWP on the volume of applications and on the number, values and purposes of grants or loans.

10.2 We are evaluating potential suppliers of systems to administer the Social Fund, including some with whom we have an existing contract. However, it is very unlikely that we can make variations to a contract to encompass the Social Fund, given the potential value of the contract and the need to ensure best-value, fair and transparent procurement. This gives some concern in terms of the timescales to evaluate options and procure a system.

10.3 All of the potential suppliers are still developing their systems, so there is a risk that we may move to procure a system which is not ready for testing, training and adapting for local criteria in time for 1st April 2013.

10.4 Some council services, especially in the social work fields, already help people with their applications for Social Fund payments from the Job Centre, and we are working to ensure that this support will still be provided. However, it seems likely that there will be an increase in applications to the Social Fund, and there would be no additional resource in social work or in local advice agencies to provide support for higher numbers of applicants.


[1] Benefits Stigma: how newspapers report on welfare; Guardian Data Blog http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/20/benefits-stigma-newspapers-report-welfare Accessed 11/12/2012

©Parliamentary copyright

Prepared 5th February 2013

250px-Canary.wharf.from.thames.arp As you can see Tower Hamlets council is pretty critical of the DWP. It seems that the DWP are not only reluctant to give us, the public, any clear and unambiguous information about their plans, but they also keep Local Authorities in the dark making it harder for them to plan ahead to help those in the most need – which they have a duty to do.

Personally, when people are vague and downright obstructive with me I tend to think they’re up to no good…so what is the DWP really up to?

The Trial of a Proud Man: Evidence against Iain Duncan Smith

the_great_ids   Iain Duncan Smith has spoken a number of times about his pride in the welfare reforms he’s presided over. He’s dismissed all criticisms and poo-pooed all the evidence that these reforms are causing hardship.

Imagine that IDS could be put on trial for the harm he’s done (I wish) and evidence was presented for the prosecution. What would that evidence be? Where would we begin to start? Well, here’s an interesting video from February this year. It shows three well educated, articulate  people appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, telling how they suffered at the hands of Atos. Its a long video, over an hour and a half, but its well worth watching.

lbc-logo Here’s more evidence for the prosecution in the form of a conversation on LBC radio. A caller, Sally, who claims to be a former nurse assessor at ATOS  gives Petrie Hosken an uncomfortable insight into how assessments are made.

 

So, anyone going to present any evidence for the defence?

CAMERON’S ‘GLOBAL RACE’ : THE GREAT LEAP BACKWARDS TO A NEW FEUDAL BRITAIN ?

When I reflect on the past three years of Coalition Rule there’s no doubt in my mind that they are intent on destroying the hard fought rights of ordinary folk to a decent living wage and a secure roof over their heads. Every day, when I read of yet another assault on these rights I fear for the future of my grandson’s generation. The devastation that this government has presided over is astonishing and the insidious and divisive rhetoric of sanctimony that seeps from their mouths and saturates the Tory press is beyond sickening. The question is, why now? The usual trite excuse for austerity  and the complete destruction of the public sector both here and abroad- “its the banks wot dunnit” – doesn’t wash when the only real victims are the poor.

Over the last months it seems every Coalition politician asked to comment on TV or radio for whatever reason has been justifying the decisions and actions of government by referring to the so called ‘global race’ we’re apparently signed up to. What ‘global race’? Who exactly are we competing against here, and what’s the prize? Who’s putting the effort in and who’s reaping the benefits? When did it start? And WHY are we in this ‘race’ in the first place?

01_awelfarea     Back in May 2010, as he took up office at the DWP, the allegedly right honourable Iain Duncan-Smith set out his stall by commenting on the welfare benefit situation he was inheriting. He said,

The rise in working age poverty and continued inequality show that we must make work pay and the first choice for millions of people. It is not right that someone can actually be worse off by taking work, we should be rewarding such positive behaviour by making work pay.

Now tell me if this sounds daft, but if I were going to ‘make work pay’ I’d do something about raising the minimum wage by enough to make it possible for a family to actually have a life worth living; and I’d also do something about making sure there were enough of those jobs for those who needed them.

IDS obviously had other ideas. Since he came out with the quote above we’ve seen his attempts to ‘make work pay’ and heard his sermons with their feeble excuses of ‘fairness’ as justification for shoving more and more people deeper into poverty and precariousness. His reductions in benefits and his welfare caps and his bedroom tax and whatnot have pushed down the incomes of the most vulnerable poor well below the minimum wage level so theoretically it could be said work pays more than benefits – something that a decently paid job always did – assuming there are enough to go round. The point I’m making here, though, is that in order to be able to come on our TV’s and proudly claim that he’s done what he said he would do, in the process he’s made the lives of people who for one reason or another can’t work, far more difficult – and in some cases so impossible they’ve ended those lives in despair – and he’s done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for those people who are desperate to work but can’t find the non-existent decently paid jobs he keeps nagging them to go and get.

Steve Bell cartoon 16.07.2013 The devious lengths he and his ministers have had to go to in order to  impression manage the whole bloody fiasco are mind blowing. The DWP has now become renown for manipulating statistics and reconstructing reality. What with Lord Freud’s completely Freudian denial of the truth about food banks followed closely by IDS’s deadpan attempt to make poverty and homelessness totally disappear through a unilateral act of blind faith I’m left wondering if we should rename the DWP  the Department for Sinister Magic Tricks.

We’ve always known that Tories look down on the poor and do nothing positive to help them and we’ve all seen how our democratic process of government has been even more infected of late by the creeping virus of corporate vested interest. With the imminent EU-US Free Trade Agreement elephant looming large and ominous in the corner, salivating at the thought of all that lovely profit to be made here and rubbing its greedy hands at the thought of cracking its powerful whip if our puny government dares to try to pass any laws to stand in its way, the future for the likes of us is not bright and definitely not as rosy as it will be for companies like Orange.

0 I’m by no means alone in feeling these concerns. There have been numerous reports over the past couple of years presenting the evidence of suffering that Duncan Smith and his ministers want to magic into non-existence. Church groups and charities, the Children’s Commissioner, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and now, writing in today’s Observer, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu have all expressed deep concern and anger at the growing scandal of our low wage economy. Dr Sentamu asks a very pertinent question in his article, a question which goes to the heart of this government’s pretence of a justification for their cruel cuts and tacitly exposes their smear campaign which labels benefits claimants as scroungers as a dirty lie. Talking about tax credits he says,

“The holes in millions of pay cheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4bn a year… Why is the government having to subsidise businesses which don’t pay their employees enough to live on? “

 shoes b         9-21-2010-12-37-45-PM

Contained in that question are the real shock horror headlines about benefits scroungers that the Tory loving Daily Mail and Telegraph have not been printing. This is the true story:-

FOUR BILLION POUNDS OF TAX BENEFITS GOING TO HELP SCROUNGING CORPORATIONS SO EXECUTIVES CAN LIVE IN LUXURY WHILE WORKERS’ KIDS GO WITHOUT THE BASIC NECESSITIES.

Coalition rhetoric seems to consist of just a few stock phrases that every minister trots out at every opportunity during interviews and speeches. They never engage in real debate. One of their biggest lies is the one where they tell you they’re on the side of “people who want to work hard and do the right thing” and they imply that people who do this will “get on”.This is their definition of  “striver”. I wonder if they realise that some dictionaries define the word as “one who works as hard as a slave”. So if you decode their message what are they really saying? It seems to me they’re saying they want us to work like slaves and do the right wing thing which is basically to help corporations make more profit. Their talk about Britain being in the ‘global race’ is part of this discourse. When Cameron uses it he implies that if we don’t get ‘match fit’ by being ‘strivers'(slaves) we’ll lose the race. Being ‘strivers'(slaves) we attract business to Britain. The goal of the Coalition (Tory) government is to turn Britain into a slave economy that attracts corporate investment to enrich them and their wealthy mates. They’ve already opened up much of the public sector to private investment and will carry on doing that until its all in private hands (they’ve even sold our blood!). It seems the DWP’s job is to manufacture a suitable workforce conditioned to accept lower and lower wages subsidised by more and more expensive credit from their loan shark friends. Enslavement is the only word for it.   Lets take a look at how far they’ve taken us towards that goal in the last three years.

Graphic-02A   No matter how hard IDS and his magicians spin and weave their web of lies about employment statistics the hard facts are that decent paying full time jobs are difficult to find. The graphic above clearly illustrates how many full time jobs have been lost since 2008 and shows just how precarious work has become. The biggest worrying factor, though, is the incredible rise in the number of people who are now employed on zero hours contracts in this country – especially in the 16 to 24 year old section of the labour market. Back in 2005 there were 50,000 working age people on these contracts. Last year that figure was 200,000. You can get an idea of the pace of change when you learn that between 2011 and 2012 the figure doubled in size. 38% of those 200,000 are under 25 and now 23% of employers of over 100 employees use zero hours contracts. The private health sector are now the second largest users of these contracts with 13% of them now employing nurses and healthcare assistants this way, compared to only 7% back in 2004 – another indicator of the creeping privatisation of the NHS. What’s worse most cleaning and catering firms that employ people on zero hours expect their employees to pay for their own training and uniforms. This information was obtained from House of Commons Library Special Note SN/BT/653 last updated on 4th July 2013.

david-cameron-welf_2438993k  Of course, David Cameron and his corporate cronies at the CBI see this sorry state of affairs in a very different light. They can go out and ‘sell’ Britain’s ‘flexible’ workforce. And it has the added value of making the unemployment figures look good; as Neil Carberry of the CBI said on the BBC on 15th May,

It’s zero hours contracts and other forms of flexible working that mean there are half a million fewer unemployed people than there might otherwise have been.”

Precisely, Neil. And with this in mind you’ll be wondering why David Cameron told Archbishop John Sentamu he thought his concept of a living wage was “an attractive idea”. Was he deliberately lying to the priest or was he doing the usual Tory trick of appearing to agree by not finishing his sentence?  What he surely meant was it was “an attractive idea for some but not the Tories.”

Productivity-and-compensation-1  The Tories’ scurrilous insults about working people can be seen to be even more disgusting if you take the time to think about what this little graph shows. The red dotted line refers to hourly wage rates in UK manufacturing while the rising blue line indicates productivity. Its glaringly obvious that since the 1980’s and Thatcher’s era of destruction, workers’ wages have not kept up with their output. People have been working harder and harder for less and less. This is the most up to date graph I could find but even on this you can see the beginnings of a downturn in the hourly rate in 2010. Its surely no coincidence that since Thatcher’s onslaught on trade unions and the consistent curbing and demonising of union activity ever since that time, workers in Britain have been exploited for their labour. And its certainly no coincidence that the gap between the increasing hard work and the poverty of the reward mirrors the increasingly gaping chasm between rich and poor. For me this graph is a testament to the fact that the wealthy are living it up on the backs of the impoverished. And now, it seems, they want more.

images  One of our most basic needs is to have somewhere safe and secure to live. A home. An affordable home. A recent report from Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Keeping up in Hard Times” (2012) has shown that,

  “From a living standards perspective, it is clear that the majority of low income families have insufficient incomes to comfortably meet an adequate standard of living as defined by the Minimum Income Standard and cover their housing costs. Even at the median, family incomes for owners and private renters do not stretch to cover both costs in a third of local authorities. This is not just an issue in London and the South East. Even in cheaper parts of the country and in lower priced tenures, housing costs can be hard for those on the lowest incomes to afford. For a very low income couple with one child, the cost of meeting the MIS alone is greater than their income of £19k. This means that even a subsidised social rent is unaffordable. “

The report demonstrates that in the whole of the South of England  there is no housing option which doesn’t cost more than 25% of the Minimum Income Standard. For a couple with two children this is calculated to be £23,700 p.a. BEFORE rent and childcare costs are added in. According to IDS, its ‘unfair’ for anyone to receive total benefits greater than £24,000. As the bedroom tax and the benefits cap bites deeper families are going to find themselves in very deep trouble indeed. How many will be forced to move into the cheaper housing areas in Wales and the North, looking for scarce, precarious work? If things don’t change they may well have to.

This won’t be just a divided Britain, this will be Ghetto Britain.

The tangled web of DWP deception: Now They’re Spinning Lies with WCA Appeals Statistics.

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We’ve all heard about the enormous number of appeals made against the outcome of  Work Capability Assessments resulting from Atos’ completely unfit for purpose methodology.We’re all aware of the immense cost this has resulted in and the huge number of successful appeals which have overturned DWP decisions and caused embarrassment for the government. And I’m sure , like me, no-one has been too surprised by the attempts by DWP ministers to put a positive spin on the statistics in order to minimise this embarrassment by emphasising the numbers of unsuccessful appeals and playing down the successes.

What we have a right to expect, though, from a government department, is that they at least stick to the truth. Sadly, we’ve seen that this particular batch of DWP overlords seem to have big problems when it comes down to telling it like it really is. They have a truth deficit bigger than that of Osborne’s budget and it seems their version of what the appeals statistics mean  is no exception.

magnifying-glass  According to an excellent website called ilegal the DWP ‘s presentation of statistics on all aspects of WCAs is full of omissions and obfuscations leading to a completely false picture of the performance of this crucial part of their attack on the welfare state. The article presented on ilegal’s website is far too long to reproduce in full here so I want to simply focus on the section on appeals. If you want to read a very detailed account of all the DWP statistics on this subject which explains the figures in a way that even a mathematically challenged dunce like me could understand then you need to go here:-

http://ilegal.org.uk/thread/7816/esa-fit-work

Griffin+Cartoon       According to nickd who wrote the article on ilegal the DWP are claiming that 85%  of ESA decisions are correct, but this is based on incomplete information. The figures he quotes are as follows:-

Overall number of appeals/ reconsiderations against ESA decisions:        793,700

Of which there are –

Appeals/ reconsiderations with a known outcome:                  312,100

Appeals/ reconsiderations where outcome not yet known:     481,700

Of those 312,100 where the outcome is known –

Appeals (Tribunal) where DWP decision overturned:                  116,700

Reconsiderations where claimant moved back to WRAG:            73,300

TOTAL successes for claimants:                                                     190,000

TOTAL successes for DWP:                                                              122,100

piechart     These figures couldn’t be clearer and nickd extrapolated them from the DWP’s own fact sheets after close examination.  The key figure we need to concentrate on is the one relating to cases the DWP can claim as successes in terms of making an ESA decision that wasn’t challenged by the claimant. This figure, as we can see is 122,100.

So when the DWP claims it has got things right in 85% of decisions then we can reasonably expect them to be referring to this figure. But its pretty obvious that 122,100 is not 85% of either the overall number of appeals/ reconsiderations applied for i.e 793,700 of which it is a mere 15% or of the number of appeals/reconsiderations for which the out come is known, 312,100 of which it is a somewhat better 39%. It is, though, a long way short of the claimed 85%.

download  So where have the DWP’s devious spinners of tangled webs  of deception got this amazing statistic from? As far as I can see the following calculation is the only way they can have done it.

First of all its important to note that they are saying that 85% of ESA decisions appealed against are correct. They don’t mention reconsiderations by the DWP specifically.

So if you take the figure for successful Tribunal appeals – 116,700 – and express it as a percentage of the overall number of appeals i.e. both those whose outcome is known and those whose outcome is not yet known, 793,700, you get 15%. 

So, if 15% are successful using this overall figure you can then claim, by a simple subtraction, that  85%  of appeals at Tribunal must be unsuccessful for claimants.

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By conveniently failing to include the other 73,300 positive outcomes for claimants – the successful reconsiderations – and then expressing the smaller number of successful outcomes as a percentage of a much bigger overall total of appeals over half of which have not yet produced a known outcome and could well contain many more successes the wily DWP has managed to totally rearrange reality to make itself look good. That’s pretty dishonest in my book when they have to hand further entirely relevant data that they could and should have included in their analysis if they were sincere in wanting to provide the public with a true and transparent picture of how their policies are working. The only conclusion to be taken from this can be that they don’t want to be that transparent government that Francis Maude is supposedly devoting his time to achieve.

images (8)   This kind of dishonesty in government has now become the norm, it seems, with DWP ministers. When you think that someone working for this thoroughly corrupt department is being paid a wage with taxpayers’ money to produce this kind of propaganda in order to make ministers look good…and when you also think that the single underlying purpose of doing this is to give those ministers the means to justify being re-electing – basically for party political gain – when you consider this, you have to despair and wonder if we can ever rescue any kind of democratic process for our children and grandchildren.

So given this sorry state of affairs, I’d like to introduce a new term into our vocabulary to describe what  is now happening ….. the Toryfying of statistics.