Category: Social Policy

The government’s eugenic turn violates human rights, costing families at least £2,800 each so far, according to DWP statistics

See the world through the eyes of society’s weakest members, and then tell anyone honestly that our societies are good, civilised, advanced, free.” Zygmunt Bauman.

every child used to matter

Every Child Matters was Labour’s comprehensive and effective child welfare and protection policy that the Conservatives scrapped the day after they took office in 2010. The phrase “Every Child Matters” was immediately replaced with the phrase “helping children achieve more”. This reflects a fundmental change of emphasis from a rights-based society, for which both government and citizen share responsibility, to one where the individual is held solely responsible for their circumstances, regardless of structural conditions and the impact of political policies. 

What was a “Children’s Plan” under the last Labour government is now a “free market education plan”, marking the Conservatives shift from free schools to “for profit” schools. 

The price of having more children than the state deems acceptable

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics released today show that more than 70,000 low-income families lost at least £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”.

The joint analysis conducted by the DWP and HMRC shows that from 6 April 2017, just under 865,000 households with a third or subsequent child were claiming child tax credits or Universal Credit. Of these, DWP and HMRC claim that 70,620 reported a third or subsequent child after 6 April 2017, and that consequently they weren’t receiving  benefit support for at least one child. Around 38% of those families affected were lone parents – 26,800 of them in totalcourt ruling in June 2017 deemed the policy as discriminatory towards lone parents with children under two. 

The two-child policy means that households claiming child tax credit or universal credit, who have a third or subsequent child born after 6 April 2017, are unable to claim a child element worth £2,780 a year for those children. Iain Duncan Smith has said that the draconian policy has been designed to “incentivise behavioural change”, reflecting the government’s keen embrace of wonk behavioural economics in order to prop up a failing neoliberal administration.

Presumably Duncan Smith doesn’t think that people on low incomes who need social security support should have children. However, 59% of those families affected by the cruel an uncivilised imposed cut in their low income are in work. Financially punishing them for having a child isn’t going to change the profiteering behaviours of the draconian government, exploitative employers or the precarious conditions of the labour market. These are events and circumstances beyond the control of families and their children. 

Many people have children when they are relatively affluent, and may then fall on hard times through no fault of their own. It’s hardly “fair” to punish people for the structural conditions that are largely shaped through government policies based on neoliberal economics. However, Duncan Smith claimed, nonetheless, that the policy would force claimants to make the “same life choices as families not on benefits, and ‘incentivise’ them [imported US managementspeak, which means ‘to motivate’] to seek work or increase their hours.”

The Conservatives have seemingly overlooked the fact that when people struggle to meet their basic needs, they are rather less likely to be able to improve their socio-economic situation, since necessity rather than choice becomes their key motivation. Punishing people who have little income by taking away even more cannot possibly help them to improve their situation. It can only serve to inflict further suffering and distress.

The statistics also showed that 190 women were “exempted” from the eugenic policy, which the government has insisted is “working” and had been “delivered compassionately,” after they were forced to prove to officials their third child was conceived as a result of rape. The women have had to disclose rape in order to claim benefits under the government’s two-child benefit policy, according to the official DWP stats released today. That’s 190 women forced to disclose being sexually assaulted just to feed their children.

The so-called rape clause has been widely condemned by campaigners, who say it is outrageous a woman must account for the circumstances of her rape to qualify for support. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”. 

A government spokesperson said: “The policy to provide support in child tax credit and universal credit for a maximum of two children ensures people on benefits have to make the same financial choices as those supporting themselves solely through work.”

Adding ludicrously: “We are delivering this in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right exceptions and safeguards in place.” George Orwell’s dystopian novel became a government handbook of citizen “behavioural change”.

The rollout of universal credit will increase the number of families affected. All new claims for the benefit after February 2019 will have the child element restricted to two children in a family, even if they were born before the policy was introduced.

Personal decision-making and citizen autonomy is increasingly reduced as neoliberal governments see human behaviours as a calculated investment for future economic returns. Now, having a child if you happen to be relatively poor invites the same outraged response from the right as those we saw leading up to the welfare ‘reforms’ regarding the very idea of people on welfare support owning flat screen TVs and Iphones.

Apparently, people struggling to get by should do without anything that would make their life a little more bearable. You can only have public and political sympathy and support if you lead the most wretched life. Perish the thought that you may have bought your TV during better times, when you had a job that paid enough to live on. Or decided to have a child.

However, it is profoundly cruel and dehumanising to regard children as a commodity. Economic ‘efficiency’ and the ‘burden on the tax payer’ are excuses being used to justify withholding public funds for fundamental human necessities, for dismantling welfare and other social safety nets.

There is no discrete class of tax payers; everyone pays tax, including those who need social security provision

Campaigners have said that the number of families affected by the policy would drive up UK poverty levels, putting an estimated 200,000 children into hardship.

In April this year, 60 Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders condemned the policy, arguing it would lead to a rise in child poverty and abortions.

Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”

She went on to say:

“Our analysis with IPPR last year found 200,000 children will be pulled into poverty by the two-child limit. Today’s DWP statistics now show it’s already having a damaging impact – and at a fast pace. These are struggling families, most of them in work, who will lose up to £2,780 a year – a huge amount if you’re a parent on low pay.

“An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy. Even when times are tough, parents share family resources equally among their children, but now the government is treating some children as less deserving of support purely because of their order of birth.”

Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, said: “We are still contacted by parents, the majority of whom are in work, fretting over whether this policy means they might consider terminating their pregnancy.” (See The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies.)

 

The curtailment of benefits for mothers and chilren is a form of negative eugenics, as is using financial ‘incentives’ to ‘nudge’ women claiming welfare support to use contraception.

Frederick Osborn defined eugenics as a philosophy with implications for social order. The Conservatives see eugenics as a political concern for governance. The view arises from a focus on neoliberalism and particularly, with competitive individualism. It is linked with the Conservatives’ views concerning economic productivity, and managing resources and wealth. The Conservatives believe that poverty arises because of ‘faulty’ perceptions, cognitions and behaviours of poor people. The two-child policy is aimed at maintaining the socio-economic order. Modern eugenics is market-based and austerity driven.  

Eugenics rejects the doctrine that all human beings are born equal and redefined moral worth purely in terms of genetic fitness. However the UK government is more concerned with economic “fitness”. The doctrine challenges the idea of human equality and opens up new forms of discrimination and stigmatisation.

Eric Hobsbawm (1996) among others has pointed out in The Age of Capital 1848-1875, mounting concentrations of wealth were coupled with the massive displacement of populations and socio-economic disruption on a previously unimaginable scale. At the core of this process of destructive change is the commodification process, which has transformed human needs into marketable goods.

As the welfare state and social protection systems are being dismantled, neoliberal governments have called forth a new social imaginary of ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ people. The ‘dysfunctional’ are simply those that haven’t managed to any accumulate wealth – which is the majority of us. The deployment of terms such as ‘deserving’, ’empowerment’, ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ in policy discourses and the way these are being used to pathologise service users and to reconstruct the relationship between the state and citizens indicates an authoritarian government that seems determined to micromanage the psychology, self perceptions and characters of those it deems ‘dysfunctional’. 

This idea, which also underpins the pseudoscientific discipline of behavioural economics is one way of justifying huge wealth inequality and maintain the status quo. It also serves to create a utopian free-market order with the power of the state and to extend this logic to every corner of society. As sociologist Loïc Wacquant said, neoliberalism represents an “articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third.”

Childrens’ worth, for the Conservatives, may be counted out in pounds and pence or not at all.

The Conservatives believe it is necessary to govern through a particular register, that of the economy. The government offers economic ‘opportunities’ for only the ‘right kind’ of people. As a neoliberal form of governmentality, we are witnessing the construction of a new meritocratic ‘common-sense’ in which the rule of the ‘brightest and best’, those with the highest level of cognitve functioning, is presented simply as a form of rational economic ‘natural selection’. The two-child policy reflects this view of  a marketised ‘natural selection’ mechanism.

A major criticism of eugenic policies is that, regardless of whether “negative” or “positive” policies are used, they are susceptible to abuse because the criteria of selection are determined by whichever group is in political power at the time. Furthermore, negative eugenics in particular is considered by many to be a violation of basic human rights, which include the right to reproduction. Another criticism is that eugenic policies eventually lead to a loss of genetic diversity,

The political restriction of support to two children seems to be premised on the assumption that it’s the same “faulty” families claiming social security year in and year out. However, extensive research indicates that people move in and out of poverty – indicating that the causes of poverty are ‘structural rather than arising because of individual psychological or cognitive ‘deficits’. 

The Conservatives have always held an elitist view of humanity – wealthy people are seen as worthy, noble and moral, and poorer people are regarded as biologically-driven, impulsive and crassly sexualised. This set of prejudices justifies a harsh set of social policies that aims to abolish government assistance to the ‘undeserving’ poor, while preserving and enhancing the privileges accorded to their ‘deserving’ betters. 

These ideas can be traced back in part to an 18th-century English clergyman—and Thomas Robert Malthus, who was one of the founders of classical economics. Malthus wanted an end to poor relief and advocated exposing unemployed people to the harsh disciplines of the market.

Malthus maintained that despite a ‘generous’ welfare system, poverty in England kept increasing. He also believed that welfare created ‘peverse incentives’ –  Conservatives echo these claims that support to unemployed citizens always creates more of the poverty it aims to alleviate. From this view, receiving ‘unearned’ resources ‘incentivises’ unemployed people not to seek work, thus perpetuating their own condition.

Central to Malthus’s ‘scarcity of resources thesis’ (paralleled with the Conservatives’ austerity programme an ‘deficit reduction’) is the idea that hunger and deprivation serves to discipline the unemployed people to seek work and control childbirth. Apparently, cruelty is the key to prosperity.

The Conservatives are contemporary Malthusians, who endorse removing benefits as a necessity to compel citizens to work, and when in work, to work even harder, regardless of whether their children suffer in the punitive process of imposed deprivation.

Malthus believed that poor people procreate recklessly, whereas wealthy people excercise ‘moral restraint’. The Conservatives’ draconian social policies also depend on the endorsement of divisive cultural prejudices and dehumanising views of poor and vulnerable citizens. 

The two-child policy is an indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist ideology and administrative agenda, designed to exercise control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of ‘faulty’ individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making and ideologically driven socio-economic policies.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without. This reveals the government’s  bleak and dystopic view of a society where financial outcomes override all other considerations, including human lives.

Conservatives’ two-child policy violates human rights

I wrote in 2015 about some of the implications of the two-child policy. Many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two-child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements.

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born.

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to. 

Restriction on welfare support for children will inevitably directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, it openly discriminates against the children of larger families . 

People who are in favour of eugenic policies believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. And taking public funds from public services. 

Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable”, regardless of the reason, and which formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights, is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatory, states:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

An assessment report by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the UK’s Human Rights Act.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2us for benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.

 

Related 

A brief history of social security and the reintroduction of eugenics by stealth

UN to question the Conservatives about the two-child restriction on tax credits

The government has failed to protect the human rights of children

European fundamental rights charter to be excluded in the EU withdrawal Bill, including protection from eugenic policy

 


 

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Very important consultation on the migration of people onto universal credit from legacy benefits

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The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has launched an important public consultation on the government’s proposals for moving all existing claimants of a working age income-related benefit to Universal Credit.

From next year the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will begin the process of moving claimants in receipt of one or more of the following benefits to Universal Credit:

  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Housing Benefit

The wide-ranging draft legislation, which was presented to the Committee for scrutiny at its meeting on 20 June 2018, sets out the government’s proposals on:

  1. requirements for claimants on existing benefits to make a claim for Universal Credit (including the deadlines for doing so) and arrangements for ending their existing benefit
  2. the calculation, award and ongoing treatment of transitional protection

The task of safely moving around 3 million claimants (in around 2 million households) from legacy benefits to Universal Credit raises important questions about the delivery challenge facing the department and the potential impact on claimants.

SSAC has therefore decided to examine this draft legislation, and the impacts that flow from it, in more detail. To help inform this work, the committee would welcome evidence from a broad range of organisations and individuals who have good insight into and/or experience of the following aspects of these proposals:

  • the overall migration timetable
  • arrangements for contacting claimants and inviting claims from them
  • issues associated with making a claim, and ending legacy benefit claims
  • the calculation of transitional protection (including the treatment of earnings and capital)
  • the impact of proposed transitional protection (including how easily it will be delivered and the degree to which it will be understood by claimants)
  • the impact on workers, including the self-employed
  • equality impact (whether there will be particular effects for different groups and how these can best be addressed), for example are there any groups that will not be covered by transitional protection?
  • monitoring and evaluation

The Committee would welcome responses to ensure that its advice to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is informed by a range of perspectives. The committee would welcome real or hypothetical case studies or specific examples as part of that evidence.

Paul Gray, the Committee’s Chair, said:

“The planned rollout of Universal Credit is now reaching its most critical and challenging stage. The government’s draft proposals involve major issues on both detailed entitlement rules and delivery logistics, and are due to be debated in Parliament later this year. SSAC is keen to ensure that the scrutiny report it submits to ministers and Parliament is as well-informed as possible, and we therefore strongly encourage all organisations and individuals with relevant evidence to take part in this consultation process.”

The government has said that migration onto Universal Credit will take place between 2019 and 2023. Under the recent government proposals, people currently receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will receive a letter informing them that their benefits will be stopped and asking them to make a new claim to Universal Credit. The proposals suggest people will be given between one and three months to do this, with some circumstances in which that would be extended.

Some thoughts on the government’s proposals

The ‘managed migration’ entails claimants making a new claim for Universal Credit, which could mean that people with health problems may see their benefits stopped entirely while they struggle with the difficult and lengthy process of applying for Universal Credit. These are people who have already been through a rigorous and stressful assessment process and declared eligible for benefits because they are disabled or unwell. A gap in support for ill or disabled or people would leave them very vulnerable, and may have distressing and potentially harmful consequences.

It’s not as if the government have a particularly good track record on managing migrations. It’s difficult to find any good faith regarding the ‘managed’ transition to Universal Credit for so many people from a complex variety of legacy benefits, when the Conservatives’ welfare ‘reforms’ have had such a profoundly damaging effect on so many people already. This is because the word ‘reforms’ has been used to euphemise cruel austerity cuts that have fallen disproportionately on the poorest citizens.

Nor have the government demontrated that they are particularly observant of human rights frameworks and equality legislation. In fact their track record indicates they hold such safeguards and mechanisms of accountability in contempt.

This is a good reason why the 50 page poorly worded government document requires very careful scrutiny via a consultation. It’s not appropriate or adequate for the government to adopt a ‘test and learn’ approach that lacks safeguarding measures for those at risk of vulnerability through a cut or delay in their lifeline income, while the government attempts to get this right through trial and error at their expense. 

The ‘safeguards’ that government has proposed simply do not address the concern that people will be left without a source of income during the migration. It’s completely unfair to place all the responsibility on severely unwell people to have to reapply for a new benefit and risk losing their income in the process.

The government should take full responsibility for migrating ill and disabled people onto Universal Credit smoothly and safely while protecting their income, health and wellbeing. 

If people have to make a claim for Universal Credit due to a change in circumstances, such as moving house, or living with a new partner, rather than simply being migrated from the legacy benefit, that may also potentially place at risk any transitional protections they would have been entitled to, such as the severe disability premiums that some people are entitled to on ESA, since those are not included in Universal Credit. It’s also not clear if such a group would have to go through reassessment. That would also cause hardship and distress, because of the long waiting period between assessments, mandatory review and appeal.

Originally, the government had implied that migration from ESA to Universal Credit would not entail having to make a claim, and that provided the claimant’s circumstances have not changed, they would receive a transitional protection to compensate for the loss of the severe disability allowance and other amounts under legacy benefits which are not covered by Universal Credit. 

A regulation [2(6)] has been ‘inserted’ which will introduce a ‘Gateway Condition’ into previous social security regulations from 2014, so that claimants who are receiving:

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA(IR);
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA(IB));
  •  Income Support (IS); or 
  •  HB; 

and have the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) included in their award will not be
able to claim UC. Instead, rather than naturally migrate to UC, they will remain on
their existing benefit if they have a change of circumstance that would require a new claim for a benefit that UC is replacing to be made.

This is because of a recent landmark High Court ruling, earlier this month, in which the Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men, who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit, as they lost their SDP under Universal Credit rules. 

However, there is no clear mention in the document of what will happen to those who receive Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) on ESA, which is also not payable under Universal Credit. Also, there needs to be more discussion and debate around clarifying the details of how the tapering of transitional protections is going to happen, and indeed, if this should happen at all. 

It’s difficult to forget that disabled people who were ‘migrated’ from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independent Payment (PIP) were also ‘invited’ to apply for PIP following notification of their claim for DLA being closed, which meant facing reassessment. Many people lost their eligibility for this lifeline support, and others were assessed as eligible for only part of an award, leaving them with rather less money than they had before they claimed PIP. Many have lost their motability vehicles as a consequence of losing the mobility component at reassessment for PIP.

These are just some of the worrying issues that the government’s latest proposals raise, which need to be addressed. We need to respond collectively to this consultation as a matter of urgency. 

The overall effect and impacts of the proposed amendments placed before the Committee, outlined in the 50 page government document, are to be subject to a government ‘test and learn’ approach to implementation. It is unacceptable that those migrated first onto Universal Credit are regarded by the government as a sort of group of experimental test cases, when a rigorous impact assessment would have been much more appropriate to safeguard these citizens from hardships and distress created by government policy and administration.

People who need social security, paid for by the public, among whom are people needing social security support, and those who may in the future, are not lab rats for the government to experiment on without their consent. Most unemployed, underemployed, disabled or ill people have contributed to the Treasury and deserve better management of their money, adequate provision and rather more competent policy administration by the government.

Having read through the government proposal document, it does say that there are certain protections for claimants who have a disability or a health problem when they ‘transition’ to UC from ESA or incapacity benefits. Such protections include:

  • ensuring that a capability for work determination for ESA can automatically be applied to the UC award; and 
  •  paying the Limited Capability for Work addition in UC if they have been continuously entitled to ESA and entitled to the Work-Related Activity Component in ESA prior to 3rd April 2017. 

Glancing through this document, it not very clearly outlined what will happen to those people with a more recent award of the Work-Related Activity Component, or to those where there has been a break in their previous entitlement since April 2017. 

Regulation 19 states that in cases where ESA claimants had the Support Component (SC) or Work-Related Activity Component (WRAC) applied to their award immediately before they make a claim for UC, if ESA claimants have the SC applied to their ESA award, the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) element in UC would be applied to their UC award, without the need for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), from the start of their first (UC) assessment period.

An assessment period is one month. Entitlement to Universal Credit depends on your circumstances and your income in each complete assessment period. This potentially introduces a degree of uncertainty for people on long-term disability support, who rely on a degree of financial security to manage day-to-day living with additional needs. 

UC is ordinarily paid monthly in arrears, and there is very little discussion in the government proposal document about how the gap will be bridged when legacy benefit claims are closed. There is mention that in some circumstances, where a claim for full housing benefit is in place, people migrated onto Universal Credit may claim a kind of ‘run on’, for a two-week period. However, housing benefit is always paid in arrears, and the two week run-on would simply cover the period of arrears from legacy benefits.

Regulation 20 states that with cases where the ESA assessment phase has not ended at the point the claimant claims UC, any unspent portion of the 13-week ESA assessment phase is carried forward and, if awarded, the appropriate UC element will apply. 

The proposed regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and, as such, will need to be debated in both Houses of Parliament. Affirmative procedure is a type of parliamentary procedure relating to statutory instruments (SIs), which are traditionally reserved for non-controversial policies. 

An SI laid under the affirmative procedure must be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament. Certain SIs on financial matters are only considered by the Commons. However affirmative resolution SIs require the approval of Parliament.

SSAC is an independent advisory body of the Department for Work and Pensions. The Committee’s role is to give advice on social security issues; scrutinise and report on social security regulations (including tax credits) and to consider and advise on any matters referred to it by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions or the Northern Ireland Department for Communities.

The Committee’s Chair is Paul Gray. Its membership comprises: Bruce Calderwood, David Chrimes, Carl Emmerson, Chris Goulden, Philip Jones, Jim McCormick, Grainne McKeever, Dominic Morris, Seyi Obakin, Judith Paterson, Charlotte Pickles, Liz Sayce and Victoria Todd.

Most social security regulations go before SSAC for scrutiny, the only significant exceptions being regulations which go to other advisory bodies or set benefit rates. When SSAC has considered regulations which it has asked to be formally referred, its response is made in the form of a report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. That report must be presented to Parliament when the regulations are laid with a statement from the Secretary of State showing what has been done (or is intended to be done) about the SSAC’s recommendations (section 174(1) and (2) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992).

Please read the regulations and explanatory memorandum in full if you intend to send a response regarding the consultation.

Responses should be submitted to the Committee Secretary by no later than 10am on Monday 20 August:

The Committee Secretary 
Social Security Advisory Committee 
5th Floor 
Caxton House 
Tothill Street 
London 
SW1H 9NA 

Alternatively responses can be emailed to – ssac.consultation@ssac.gsi.gov.uk

I will need to read through all of the government proposals carefully in order to make my own full response, which I’ll publish in due course.

And of course, Universal Credit, its impact, adequacy and performance as a form of social security, needs some more careful scrutiny, too. 

Image result for Universal credit


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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It’s time government ministers stopped lying about their attack on disabled people

Image result for centre for welfare reform simon duffy

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Universal Credit (UC) rules which will leave many disabled people who are new claimants, who experience a change in circumstances or a break in their claim, without their Disability Income Guarantee.

Those people who qualified for the support component of income-related Employment and Support Allowance and (ESA) are eligible for a disability premium (also called the Disability Income Guarantee.) However, as a result of the abolition of both the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) under UC rules, according to the disability charity, Scopethe cut to the disability income guarantee will see disabled people lose as much as £395 a month.

Two disabled people decided to take the government to court over the brutal cuts to their income, which has caused them severe hardship.

Earlier this month, in a landmark judgment, the High Court ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) unlawfully discriminated against two severely disabled men who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they claimed Universal Credit. 

Lawyers representing the men said the ruling showed that the new benefit system was “not working” for the disabled or other claimants, and urged the government to halt the roll-out and overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs and not “condemn them to destitution”. The two claimants, known only as TP and AR, had both previously been in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at ensuring the additional care and needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer are met.

Both people were required to make a claim for universal credit when they moved into new local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change. Yet despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to universal credit where circumstances remain the same”, both men saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved over to UC.

When they asked for the top up payments promised by the DWP, they were told that Government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019 when managed migration is due to begin.

As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically. TP, a former City banker who suffers from a terminal illness, has been struggling to address his care needs, and AR, who suffers from severe mental health issues, has been unable to afford basic necessities.

Earlier this month, the DWP committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto universal credit until transitional protection is in place and also, made a commitment to compensate those like the claimants who have lost out.  

Despite this, following the judgment, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the claimants were treated. 

Their lawyer, Tessa Gregory from the human rights team at Leigh Day, told the Court: “Nothing about either of the claimants’ disability or care needs changed, they were simply unfortunate enough to need to move local authorities into a Universal Credit full service area.”

The judge said the impact on the individuals was “clear”, and said the way they were transferred onto universal credit was “manifestly without reasonable foundation” and “failed to strike a fair balance”.

Following the ruling, Ms Gregory said: “This is the first legal test of the roll out of Universal Credit and the system has been found to be unlawfully discriminating against some of society’s most vulnerable. 

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that no one in our client’s position will now be moved onto Universal Credit until top up payments are in place, it comes too late as it cannot make up for the months of suffering and grinding poverty our clients and many others like them have already had to endure.

“We call upon Esther McVey to compensate our clients and all those affected without any further delay, and urge her to focus on fixing Universal Credit rather than wasting more public funds appealing this court decision.

“Today’s decision shows again that Universal Credit is not delivering what was promised at the outset. It is not working. It’s not working for the disabled, it’s not working for parents, it’s not working for low-income and part-time employees and it’s not working for the self-employed.  

“The government needs to halt the rollout and completely overhaul the system to meet peoples’ needs, not condemn them to destitution. If this doesn’t happen further legal challenges will inevitably follow.

“Disability premiums are not a luxury. They play a crucial role in helping disabled people pay for essentials like food, clothing and bills. The needs of the people involved in this case haven’t changed, and yet they have lost more than £170 per month in support. This isn’t  fair.

Until the Government fully addresses these issues, it will unfairly penalise disabled people for moving over to universal credit.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “The court found in our favour on three of the four points raised by the claimant. We will be applying to appeal on the one point the court found against the Department. This government is committed to ensuring a strong system of support is in place for vulnerable people who are unable to work.”

Clearly the government is committed to trying it on by paying people as little as they can possibly get away with from the public fund. Deliberately cutting money from disabled peoples’ crucial lifeline support can hardly be described as “ensuring a strong system of support is in place”. This response indicates quite clearly that the cut was fully intentional on the part of the government.

The spokesperson added: “Last week, the Secretary of State announced that we will be providing greater support for severely disabled people as they move onto universal credit. And we have gone even further, by providing an additional payment to those who have already moved onto the benefit.”

Yes, because the cut has been ruled as discriminatory and unlawful, not because a choice was actually made to do so. Only the Conservatives could turn prejudice, discrimination and breaking the law into some kind of virtue.

Again this response indicates clearly that these were intended changes, and not merely  a consequence of administrative incompetence. There was not a shred of regret expressed by the government regarding the severe hardship these cuts have caused for disabled people. 

And this still leaves disabled people claiming the disability support component of Universal Credit for the first time without the Disability Income Guarantee. That is also discriminatory. 

The Department for Work and Pensions have claimed UC means that support is “focused on those who need it most”, but a government removing Severe Disability Premium and Enhanced Disability Premium, which is support designed to help severely disabled people who live without a carer – is pulling a basic safety net from citizens with the greatest needs. The premiums were also designed in part to address the problem of cumulative poverty for severely disabled people who cannot work, or who face disadvantage in the labour market because of additional needs and barriers. 

This cut will also potentially affect disabled lone parents who may rely on their benefit support to pay for support to shop, cook and wash, for example. The cut may mean that they will be forced to rely on their own children as carers.

Austerity has been carried disproportionately by disabled people

The UC system has made an estimated £11bn in savings, mainly through Treasury cuts to the original set level of universal credit rates – most notably through reductions to work allowances, which will save around £3bn, and the removal of £2bn in disability premium payments – but UC planning and delivery has also incurred £8.5bn in expenses.

Government statistics published last year show 47 per cent of people who were formerly receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) saw their support fall or stop altogether when they were reassessed for Personal Independent Payment (PIP).

Of a total of 947,000 claimants who were reassessed in the year up to October 2017, 22 per cent saw their support reduced, while a quarter were disallowed or withdrawn altogether — meaning 443,000 people will have had their claims reduced or removed.

However, the success rate for claimants when appealing Personal Independence Payments (PIP), for example, was 65% in 2016/17. The Mirror has recently reported that the rate of PIP appeal success has hit an all-time high of 71% for the first quarter of 2018.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield secured a debate (her first) which took place a couple of days ago (20 June) about the report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. (You can read the full debate here).  

The debate addressed last autumn’s report on the UK’s implementation of UNCRPD, and the conclusion of the UN’s disability committee that the UK government should make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

In a briefing prepared ahead of the debate, the Equality and Human Rights Commission  the other official and independent bodies responsible for monitoring the UK’s progress in implementing the convention – had called on the UK government to describe how it would “comprehensively address” the UN committee’s findings. However, the government has not made any commitment to implementing the committee’s recommendations.

During the debate, Labour MPs accused Sarah Newton, Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, and the government, of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to “endlessly mistreat” them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s comments, using techniques of neutralisation that I’ve written about before. In short, Newton used a tactic that the Conservatives have used many times before – an indignant and outraged denial. She actually accused the opposition of ‘scaremongering’ again, (and by default, she attempted to discredit disabled citizens’ accounts of their own experiences, which of course flies in the face of democratic accountability). 

The Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying the victims and condemning the condemners. 

In her attempt to defend her government’s appalling record on cuts to social security, she also told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”.

But this is not true, a fact that has been repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and her party.

Although disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze – which is set to last to 2020 – there is no exemption for the main component of ESA and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continues to be frozen.

Newton claimed that the UN, opposition and again, by default, disabled citizens, were making “irresponsible” allegations. And the courts. Again, this is a technique of neutralisation called “condemning the condemners”, used to ‘switch off ‘someone’s conscience when they plan, or have done, something to cause harm to others. The technique may also be used to push at the normative and moral boundaries of groups and the wider public.  (*See below for a full outline of the techniques).

Newton also said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not “take on board […] the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.” That’s because it isn’t there.

The UNCRPD report presented extensive, meticulous evidence with their thorough report, gathered from disabled people that have been affected by the welfare cuts, campaign groups, charities and research academics. It also condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements.” 

It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to express concern about punitive policies that are targeted to reduce the income of social groups that are already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such punitive policies will have some adverse consequences. 

Political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding qualitative and first hand accounts of citizen’s experiences, discrediting and negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability; stultifies essential public debate; obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths. Denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced. The government have no empirical evidence to verify their own claims that their punitive policies do not cause harm and distress.

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizen’s accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the Government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion and neutralisation to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies. Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Damian Green, who was the work and pensions secretary at the time the UN report was published. dismissed the highly critical findings . He said, shamefully, that the report was “patronising and offensive” and presented an outdated view of disability in the UK. He said Britain was “a world leader in disability rights and equality”.

But many of us – disabled citizens, disability activists, campaigners, charities and researchers – welcomed the report, saying it accurately highlighted the real economic and social hardships faced by disabled people after years of harsh spending cuts to social security and social care.

The shadow work and pensions secretary at the time, Debbie Abrahams, said the UN report was “crystal clear” in its identification of UK government failures. “It confirms that, despite Theresa May’s warm words, this government is failing sick and disabled people,” she said.

The UN committee said a range of measures introduced since 2010, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits and social care budgets, had disproportionately and adversely affected disabled people.

Spending cuts had negatively affected the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to achieve an adequate standard of living, the report said. The UN urged UK ministers to ensure the rights of disabled people were upheld.

Green said: “At the heart of this report lies an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive. We strongly refute its findings. The UN measures success as the amount of money poured into the system, rather than the work and health outcomes for disabled people. Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst taking care of those who can’t.”

The government said at the time that it spent about £50bn a year to support sick and disabled people – a bigger proportion of GDP than countries including Canada, France and the US.

However, this is plainly untrue. In 2015, the government’s own figures show that even before some of the cuts were implemented, the UK was ninth out of 28 countries, when ranked in terms of the size of its social protection expenditure as a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP). 

In fact Newton’s highly selective statistical ‘data’ was contradicted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) who also reported that the UK actually spends less than France, as well as Norway, Germany and Spain on disability benefits.

Furthermore, Newton’s figure includes amounts that are not directly related to disability benefit, such as carers’ allowance, housing benefit, council tax allowance, and it also includes some NHS spending.

The government actually spent £39 billion on disability, incapacity and industrial injury benefits in 2017/18. That’s 76% of the total £51 billion that Newton claimed was spent.

Abrahams said the report echoed warnings Labour had been making since 2011 about the effects of the government’s policies on disabled people. It certainly echoed warnings many of us have been making – in my own case, since the welfare “reforms” in 2012.

“The UN committee is clear that its report examines the cumulative impact of legislation, policies and measures adopted from 2010 to October 2016, so the government’s claim that it is outdated does not stand up to scrutiny.

“I am also concerned that the government is labelling the report as patronising, when they are the ones dismissing the concerns raised by disabled people who helped instigate the inquiry in the first place.”

This dismissal is despite being presented with evidence from a wide range of organisations as well as disabled citizens, to whom Conservative policies are causing harm and distress.  Yet the government continue to distance themselves from the consequences of their own decision-making, opting to deny them instead. Those are not the reasonable actions of an accountable, democratic government. 

Decades of findings in sociology and psychology tell us that as soon as a social group are defined as an outgroup, the public start to see them differently. Because politicians have stereotyped people who claim welfare support, portraying only negative characteristics, the public also perceive only those characteristics. The government, with the help of the media, has purposefully portrayed people claiming welfare support as folk devils: lazy, dishonest, stupid and as scroungers, and so on. This is profoundly dehumanising. 

The people being harmed by policies have become outsiders, they’ve been pushed out of the circle of our moral community. The government clearly don’t think of the people enduring terrible distress and hardship as experiencing the same range of autonomy, needs, thought, emotion and motivations that they do; they don’t imagine them feeling things in the same way that they do. This disconnection – a failure to recognise common human characteristics in the other – means that they are denied some measure of empathy, and consequently a sense of ethical and democratic obligation and inclusion.

The Conservatives talk a lot about “evidence-based policy”, but they don’t walk the talk. A weight of evidence has highlighted the cruel, draconian effects of the Tories’ social polices. The government have chosen to deny and ignore it. 

This lack of appropriate response indicates a deliberately prejudiced, vicious attack on a significant minority of the population, which the government has absolutely no intention of stopping or putting right any time soon.

 

You can watch the whole debate that was secured by Rosie Duffield here

 

* Techniques of neutralisation: 

Used to switch off the conscience when someone plans or has done something to cause harm to others. 

The idea of techniques of neutralisation was first proposed by David Matza and Gresham Sykes during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency, they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

They identified the following psychological techniques by which, they believed, delinquents justified their illegitimate actions, and Alexander Alverez further identified these methods used at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust:

1. Denial of responsibility. The offender(s) will propose that they were victims of circumstance or were forced into situations beyond their control.

2. Denial of harm and injury. The offender insists that their actions did not cause any harm or damage.

3. Denial of the victim. The offender believes that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed. Or they may claim that there isn’t a victim.

4. Condemnation of the condemners. The offenders maintain that those who condemn their offence are doing so purely out of spite, ‘scaremongering’ or they are shifting the blame from themselves unfairly. 

5. Appeal to higher loyalties. The offender suggests that his or her offence was for the ‘greater good’, with long term consequences that would justify their actions, such as protection of a social group/nation, or benefits to the economy/ social group/nation.

6. Disengagement and Denial of Humanity is a category that Alverez
added to the techniques formulated by Sykes and Matza because of its special relevance to the Holocaust. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews and other non-Aryans as subhuman. A process of social division, stigma, scapegoating and dehumanisation was explicitly orchestrated by the government. This also very clearly parallels Gordon Allport’s work on explaining how prejudice arises, how it escalates, often advancing by almost inscrutable degrees, pushing at normative and moral boundaries until the unthinkable becomes tenable. This stage on the scale of social prejudice may ultimately result in genocide.

Any one of these six techniques may serve to encourage violence by neutralising the norms against prejudice and aggression to the extent that when they are all implemented together, as they apparently were under the Nazi regime, a society can seemingly forget its normative rules, moral values and laws in order to engage in wholesale prejudice, discrimination, exclusion of citizens, hatred and ultimately, in genocide.

In accusing citizens and the opposition of ‘scaremongering’, the Conservatives are denying responsibility for the consequences of their policies, denying harm, denying  distress; denying the victims and condemning the condemners.

 


 

I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton


 

Why won’t ministers come clean about the impact of cuts on disabled people? – Frances Ryan


B
ack in 2014, armed with only a laptop and phone, disabled campaigners started a hunt for the truth. As policies including the bedroom tax, the abolition of disability living allowance, and the rollout of controversial out-of-work sickness benefits hit, War on Welfare (Wow) called on the coalition government to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of the wave of disability cuts to measure the effect on disabled people. It resulted in a debate in parliament – the first time disabled people had secured a debate in the main chamber of the House of Commons – but no action

Now, four years on, Wow has gained the backing of a cross-party coalition that wants Theresa May’s government to calculate the overall impact of the so-called welfare reforms on disabled people. Every party except the Conservatives is in favour of a Commons debate on conducting this assessment, including the DUP. In light of the pressure over Northern Irish abortion reform, their support for detailed analysis of the impact of Tory disability cuts is another awkward clash between May and the DUP’s 10 MPs propping up her administration. But more than that, it’s a sign of hope that ministers may have to finally investigate just what damage their disability cuts are causing – from the social care crisis to cuts to multiple parts of the NHS, to the disastrous rollout of universal credit; now delayed for an extra year until 2023

Last week’s damning report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on universal credit castigated the system’s inability to protect and support “vulnerable claimants”. It follows the revelation this month that the government was forced to say it would repay thousands of severely disabled people made worse off under the UC system ahead of the high court ruling last week that it was “discriminatory” to have docked two disabled men’s benefits after transferring to UC. Following pressure from disability groups, this week ministers made another U-turn, this time to stop repeatedly testing some disabled people for personal independence payments.

The government’s austerity programme has resulted in multiple reductions in income since 2010 that have hit disabled people all at once and disproportionately. Being hit by the bedroom tax is tough – but losing your sickness benefits as well after being found “fit for work” is even harder.

If you need an insight into the damage these policies have done, just go to Wow Voices, a website set up by campaigners that features disabled people explaining the impact of cuts on them. One woman with terminal breast cancer writes of how, for the last 18 months, she’s been told she needs to be reassessed for her benefits every six months, and she’s frantic about the thought of losing her support. “I’ve cried more about this than my terminal diagnosis,” she says. 

The UN’s damning report in 2016 into the UK’s “violations” of disabled people’s rights has put further pressure on the government over its treatment of disabled citizens. Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s own cumulative impact assessment shows that families with a disabled adult and a disabled child will lose £5,500 a year by 2022 as a result of tax and benefit changes – contradicting the government’s claim that such analysis would be “too complex” to do. 

This month, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found around 650,000 people with mental and physical health problems were officially destitute in the UK last year – that means being so poor, they can’t afford deodorant, the electric, or regular meals – with social security changes found to be a key cause. It’s bad enough for ministers to take away state support from disabled people en masse, but to refuse to analyse its effects is the definition of irresponsible. The Conservatives must finally shine a light on the impact that disability cuts have had. What are they so afraid of?

 

Related

The government response to the WoW petition is irrational, incoherent nonsense on stilts

The government refuse to carry out a cumulative impact assessment of welfare “reforms”. Again

 


I write voluntarily, to do the best I can to raise awareness of political and social issues. In particular I research and write about how policy impacts on citizen wellbeing and human rights. I also co-run a group on Facebook to support other disabled people going through ESA and PIP assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled and don’t have any paid employment. But you can contribute by making a donation and help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

British Psychological Society reafirms its opposition to welfare sanctions

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The UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies have reaffirmed their opposition to welfare sanctions.

The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, British Psychological Society and UK Council for Psychotherapy between them represent more than 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.

In a joint response to the recent report of the Welfare Conditionality project, the organisations say:

“Our key concerns remain that not only is there no clear evidence that welfare sanctions are effective, but that they can have negative effects on a range of outcomes including mental health.

“We continue to call on the Government to address these concerns, investigate how the jobcentre systems and requirements may themselves be exacerbating mental health problems and consider suspending the use of sanctions subject to the outcomes of an independent review.”

The organisations reaffirmed the clear position against welfare sanctions that they took in a 2016 joint response.

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard the British Psychological Society’s acting director of policy said:

“We are delighted to sign this joint statement. The Society has seen increasing evidence that benefit sanctions undermine people’s health and wellbeing, and that people with multiple and complex needs are disproportionately subject to them.”

I’ve written a lot of critical articles over the last few years about the government’s controversial welfare policies. The Conservatives claim that welfare sanctions “incentivise” people to look for work. However, the authoritarian application of a behaviourist idea – that punishment somehow motivates people to “change their behaviour” – especially when such punishment involves the cruel and barbaric removal of people’s means of meeting their most fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – contradicts conventional wisdom and flies in the face of a substantial body of empirical evidence.

Making provision for meeting fundamental human needs so rigidly conditional is an atrociously brutal act. There is simply no justification for a government in a very wealthy democracy to behave in such an inhumane manner. 

Social security is a safety net that most people have contributed towards. It came into being to ensure that no citizen would face absolute poverty – hunger and destitution – when they experience hardships, in a civilised and civilising democracy.

Punitive welfare sanctions are an extremely regressive policy. It was widely recognised during the 1940s that absolute poverty reduces citizens’ motivation and prevents us from fulfilling our potential at an individual level and as a society. 

Click here to read the Society’s recent comment on benefit sanctions.

Click here to read the statement from the five organisations. 

I wrote about the extensive study of  welfare conditionality here: Research shows that Tory ‘hostile environment’ of welfare sanctions doesn’t help people to find work.

Related

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies 

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

Psychologists Against Austerity: mobilising psychology for social change

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

Disabled people are sanctioned more than other people, accordingto research

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions

G4S are employing Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to deliver “get to work therapy”

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Sanctions can’t possibly “incentivise” people to work. Here’s why

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Grieving daughter handed her mother’s ashes to ESA assessor to prove she wasn’t ‘fit for work’


A grieving daughter furiously handed an urn containing her mother’s ashes to a benefit health care professional who turned up to assess if the dead woman was fit for work, following an inexcusable and heartless blunder by the Department for Work and Pensions. 

Louise Broxton had suffered a host of neurological problems for which she received welfare support. She tragically died from lung cancer at the age of just 47 in August.

Her daughter, Hatti, immediately informed the authorities of her mother’s death and all her benefits were cancelled. After initially saying the information had been placed on file, however, some seven months later the Department for Work and Pensions sent an assessor to the door of her home in Wolverhampton to see if Louise was “fit for work.”

Hatti, a prison administrator, said: “I’m so upset and angry about what’s happened.

“It’s our government that has done this to us.

I’m only 27 and my brother has just turned 17. We’ve been through enough already and we don’t need this.

“I told the DWP afterwards I’d love to live in the world that the DWP live in, the one where my mum’s still alive. But she’s been gone for seven months.

When Mum passed away August last year, everyone was notified.

“I got an acknowledgement from the DWP themselves to say that mum had died.

“They stopped paying her benefits, and paid the arrears they owed her into my account because I am her next of kin.

“But on February 28 we got a letter addressed to Mum saying they were going to do a home visit on March 13 to assess her disabilities for ESA.

 

Hatti continued: “I was furious about it so I decided not to phone them about the mistake. Instead I waited to see if they would actually have the balls to do the home visit.

“I booked the day off work and stayed at home to wait for someone to come. My cousin came round to support me.

The letter stated they’d be coming between 11am and 2pm and they would contact to book an appointment.

“Obviously they haven’t been able to contact Mum because her phone has been cut off. They had my details as next of kin but they didn’t contact me.”

At 1pm Hatti had a knock on the door from the Employment and Support Allowance assessor.

She invited him inside and, seeing her cousin sat on the sofa, the doctor asked if she was Louise.

Hatti said: “My cousin replied, ‘No, I’m not,’ and I said, ‘Hang on a minute.’

“I walked over to the mantle piece in the lounge where we keep mum’s remains in an an urn decorated with a rose. I picked up her urn, turned around, and said ‘This is Louise Broxton and you’ve come to assess her?’

“He was completely mortified, as you would be. He apologised and offered his condolences.

I told him, ‘I’m not doing this to embarrass you, but the letter and having you on my door today, that’s twice the DWP have missed something.’”

Hatti says the assessor had not looked at her mum’s medical records, which would have shown him she was dead.

She also believes the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) missed three opportunities to realise something was wrong – when they sent the letter, when no one responded to their request, and when the doctor missed Louise’s medical records.

Hatti asked the doctor to leave and inform his bosses of the mistake straight away. 

She said: “I had gone through all the correct channels to report my mother’s passing and his visit was very upsetting.

“He admitted he hadn’t even been through mum’s medical records which would have said quite clearly at the end – deceased.

She said: “It’s not the case that my mum died a couple of weeks ago. Then a crossover would be understandable and I would accept their apology. 

After the doctor left, within 10 minutes the DWP rang. The lady apologised and offered her condolences, but after admitting their mistake she tried to leave it at that. 

“That’s not good enough. I want policies in place and procedures to be followed. I don’t want anyone else to be in my situation.” 

A DWP spokesperson said: “We’ve apologised to Ms Broxton for the distress caused by the administrative error.” 

Hatti’s mother, Louise Broxton

 


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Disabled people are sanctioned more than other people, according to research

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A study has found that people with disabilities who claim social security support are 26-53 per cent more likely to be sanctioned than people who are not disabled. According to the research, the main reason behind this is a “culture of disbelief” among jobcentre staff, who fail to take sufficient account of the impact of people’s disabilities on their capacity to meet strict welfare conditionality criteria.

This implies that welfare conditionality has an inbuilt discrimination, as it disproportionately affects people according to their characteristics.

Such discrimination violates the Equality Act 2010:

Ahead of the release of a Demos report by Ben Baumberg Geiger on the Work Capability Assessment on Tuesday, the headline findings on benefits conditionality were featured today in the Observer: ‘More than a million benefit sanctions imposed on disabled people since 2010′.

Ben is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) at the University of Kent. The figures on benefits sanctions can be found in Ben’s 2017 paper ‘Benefits conditionality for disabled people: stylised facts from a review of international evidence and practice’ published (open access) here (p109-111), and the appendices that provide the source for the UK benefit sanctions data is here.

The article in the Guardian also briefly mentions new polling on the public’s attitudes to sanctioning disabled benefit claimants. However, full details of this will be available in the report to be released on Tuesday. 

The recent Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments highlights how disability benefits are not a ‘safe place’ for disabled people, despite ministers using language that implies it is. Warnings from Iain Duncan Smith about “up to a million people ‘languishing’ on sickness benefits, who could be ‘put back to work’ with the right ‘help’, or descriptions in policy papers of disabled people being “parked” on benefits mislead the public.

It is through such political definitions that groups become restricted, face boundaries, become oppressed. Over the last seven years, disabled people have somehow lost the right to self-determination and to express our own group identity. The Government have redefined us and radically rewritten the terms and conditions of the social contract more generally, removing state obligations and duties towards citizens. The Conservative settlement – a fusion of economic neoliberalism with state and social authoritarianism – openly demonstrates an aversion to any notion of social equality and justice.  

Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of lifeline benefits – are applied as a punishment when citizens infringe the conditions of their welfare support by, say, through missing an appointment, being late or failing to apply for enough jobs.

The sanctions regime has been championed by the Government as a means of imposing ‘behavioural change’ on claimants, as they believe that people are unemployed because they need ‘incentives to work’. However, rather than addressing low pay, insecure employment and poor working conditions, the Government has instead decided that unemployed people and welfare itself are the problem: welfare is seen as a ‘perverse incentive’ that prevents people from looking for employment.

Sanctions and wider welfare conditionality were introduced to significantly reduce the basic security and material comfort of people needing social security, in order to push them back into the labour market. This behaviourist turn has transformed a system that was designed to ensure that all citizens could meet their basic survival needs into one that punishes people for non-compliance with politically imposed conditionality criteria, comprised of what the Conservatives regard as acceptable ‘job seeking behaviours’. In this way, Conservatives claim that people are more likely to gain employment. 

However, unsurprisingly most of the experts consulted as part of the Demos project have concluded that welfare conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment  for disabled people, often having a negative impact to the point where disabled people were even less likely to find employment than if they hadn’t been subjected to state impositions. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and have a wider impact on peoples’ health.

Polly Mackenzie, director of Demos, said it was now clear that the benefits system isn’t working for disabled people: “Conditionality is important in any benefits system, but when disabled people are so much more likely to be sanctioned, something is going wrong. Jobcentre advisers and capability assessors too often have a culture of disbelief about disability, especially mental illness, that leads them to sanction claimants who genuinely could not do the job they are being bullied into applying for.

“We need to think again about how we assess work capability. Employers also need to be better at adapting to disabled people’s needs so that more jobs can be done by people with fluctuating conditions.”

A damning research report by the National Audit Office (NAO) in 2016, also found that there was no evidence that sanctions were working. It also said there was a failure to measure whether money was being saved, and that the application of sanctions varied from one jobcentre to another. 

The 2017 Demos study uncovered that more than 900,000 JSA claimants who report a disability have been sanctioned since May 2010. People who claim ESA and have been placed in a work-related activity group – which requires them to attend jobcentre interviews and complete work-related activities – can also be sanctioned. The research found that more than 110,000 ESA sanctions have been applied since May 2010.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Punitive sanctions can be extremely harmful to disabled people, who already face the financial penalty of higher living costs. There is no clear evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits supports them to get into and stay in work.

“Sanctions are likely to cause unnecessary stress, pushing the very people that the government aims to support into work further away from the jobs market.”

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was introduced in part to bolster neoliberal imperatives related to the supply of labour. The political focus on these economic concerns fails to  prioritise the wellbeing of disabled people. Another reason for the introduction of the WCA was to cut costs. This intention was evident in the ‘scrounger’ and fraud’ narrative that seeped into political and media discourse. Disability welfare is portrayed as ‘unsustainable’, with the Government claiming that resources need to be ‘targeted’ at those ‘most in need’.

However, it is evident from the recent Work and Pensions inquiry into ESA and PIP assessments is that many of those most in need are being catastrophically let down by the current system.

The Guardian reports: Polling for the Demos project found that while the public often supported the imposition of sanctions for disabled people, they did not back the way in which they were applied in practice.

A majority thought that disabled people’s benefits should be cut if they do not take a job they can do, but they were less supportive of sanctioning for minor non-compliance, such as sometimes turning up late for meetings. Even those who supported sanctions preferred a much less punitive approach than the government currently imposes.

The sanctions are taking place in a context where the number of unemployed disabled people being supported with specialist help to find work has actually been halved. according to the companies running the government’s Health and Work programme.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the Employment Related Services Association (Ersa), which represents the employment support sector, said: “The size of the new Work and Health Programme means only one in eight disabled people who want to work will have specialist help to do so. As a society, we have an obligation to ensure appropriate support is available and the report shows that we are in danger of failing disabled people and their families.” 

The analysis shows that there is to be a cut in funding from £750m in 2013-14 to less than £130m in 2017. Ersa says that the cut in funding will severely hamper the Government in its goal of securing work for more than 1.2 million more people with disabilities. It seems that the Government is relying on punitive and coercive measures such as the threat and use of sanctions, to achieve its goal. Disabled people are not permitted to have goals that don’t align with state-defined neoliberal ones. 

The collaborative Demos researchers recommend a reduction in the use of so-called “benefit conditionality” for disabled people and a strengthening of the safeguards to ensure disabled people are not unfairly punished. However, despite the growing numbers of campaigners, charity groups and academic researchers calling for the Government to introduce less aggressive sanctions, the Government remains disinclined to do so.

The theories of ‘behaviour change’ underpinning conditionality have been questioned by commentators, particularly with respect to the assumed ‘rationality’ of citzens’ responses to financial sanctions.

Concerns have been raised that welfare conditionality leads to a range of unintended effects, including distancing people from support, causing hardship and even destitution. There is also ample evidence that those social groups with complex needs, such as disabled people, young people with chaotic lifestyles and homeless people have been disproportionately affected by the intensification of welfare conditionality under successive Conservative governments. Research implies that there are differential impacts based on citizens’ characteristics. 

This observation is also consistent with international evidence, especially from the US, that the most potentially vulnerable claimants are at greatest disadvantage within highly conditional social security systems, for example, those with mental health problems, those with long term illnesses and disabled people more generally.

Welfare ensures that people are able to meet their basic needs. Welfare covers the costs of food, fuel and shelter. It’s a safeguard to prevent absolute poverty. That was its original purpose when it was introduced. It is difficult to imagine how removing the means that people have of meeting their basic survival needs can possibly motivate them to find work. Comprehensive historical research shows that when people cannot meet their basic biological needs, their pressing cognitive priority is simply survival.

In other words, when people are hungry and facing destitution, addressing those fundamental needs becomes a significant barrier to addressing their psychosocial needs such as seeking employment.

For disabled people, who already face additional barriers to addressing their  fundamental needs.  Welfare sanctions for disabled people has created injustices, caused fear and inflicted considerable distress and harm on disabled people.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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