Category: Welfare “reforms”

Research shows that Tory ‘hostile environment’ of welfare sanctions doesn’t help people to find work

Image result for welfare sanctions

The UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality has found that welfare sanctions are “ineffective” at “supporting” people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or survival crime. 

Despite dogmatic claims by Conservative ministers in recent years that rigorously enforced conditionality – including mandatory 35-hour job searches – “‘incentivised’ claimants to move off benefits into work”, the research found the positive impact was negligible.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded study of welfare conditionality was carried out between 2013 and 2018 by researchers at six universities. It included repeat qualitative interviews over two years with 481 welfare service users in England and Scotland as well as interviews with 57 policy experts and 27 focus groups.

The five-year research programme that has been following the lives of hundreds of claimants concludes that the controversial policy of cutting benefits as a punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been “little short of disastrous.”

For those people interviewed for the study who did gain employment, the most common outcome was a series of short-term, insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment, rather than a shift into sustained, well-paid work.

Sanctions generally delivered poor outcomes, including debt, poverty and reliance on charities such as food banks, the study found. Often imposed for trivial and seemingly cruel reasons, they frequently triggered high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The director of the study, Professor Peter Dwyer, based at the University of York, said “The outcomes from sanctions are almost universally negative.” 

One research finding is that, in many cases, the threat of sanctions had the unintended effect of encouraging a “culture of counterproductive compliance and futile behaviour” among some claimants, who learned “the rules of the game” rather than becoming genuinely “engaged with work.”  This of course is through necessity, as social security payments are claimed by people who need support to meet their basic survival needs: welfare (barely) covers the costs of food, fuel and shelter. 

The authors of the research paper conclude: “Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes.” 

Many campaigners, including myself, have been pointing this out for years. It’s a fundamental truth – established by Abraham Maslow, and verified by a range of comprehensive studies, including the Minnesota semi-starvation experiment – that if people cannot meet their basic survival needs, that becomes their “cognitive priority” – their primary motivation. People caught in absolute poverty cannot then higher level psychosocial needs, until their basic survival needs are met. It takes a monstrously authoritarian government to ignore these empirical facts and to continue to punish citizens by withdrawing their fundamental means of survival.

The researchers call for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work. 

The research report says that in the “rare” cases where claimants did move off benefits into sustained work, personalised job support, not sanctions, was the key factor. With few exceptions, however, jobcentres were more focused on enforcing benefit rules rather than helping people gain employment.

“Although some examples of good practice are evident, much of the mandatory job search, training and employment support offered by Jobcentre Plus and external providers is too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work,” the report says.

It’s very worrying that the research highlighted those citizens with “chaotic lives” – who were homeless or had addictions, for example – reacted to the “inherent hassle” of the conditionality system by dropping out of the social security system altogether. In some cases, they moved into survival crime, such as drug dealing.

Low-paid workers on universal credit who were subject to so-called “in-work conditionality” – a requirement for them to work more hours or face sanctions – in some cases elected to sign off, foregoing rent support and tax credits, to avoid what they saw as constant, petty harassment from jobcentre staff.

Welfare conditionality – the notion that eligibility for benefits and services should be linked to claimants’ compliance with certain rules and behaviours – has been progressively embedded into the UK social security system since the 1990s, although the scope and severity intensified dramatically after 2012, when the Conservative-led coalition “reformed” the welfare system.

Sanctions are imposed when claimants supposedly breach stringent jobcentre rules, typically by failing to turn up for appointments on time, or at all, or for failing to apply for “enough jobs”. They are effectively fined by having their benefit payments stopped for a minimum of four weeks (about £300) and a maximum of three years. This means that money to meet their basic living requirements is cut. 

At its peak in 2013, under the then secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, there were more than a million sanctions. Between 2010 and 2015, a quarter of all people on jobseeker’s allowance were sanctioned, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) issuing £132m in sanctions penalties in 2015.

Sanctions fell to 350,000 in 2016 as a series of critical reports emerged questioning their effectiveness and calling for changes, including from the all-party work and pensions select committee, the DWP’s social security advisory committee and the National Audit Office.

fresh inquiry by MPs into sanctions is under way.

Dalia Ben-Galim, the policy director at the single parents’ charity Gingerbread, said: “Rather than threatening single parents with sanctions and widening the ‘conditionality’ agenda, it would be much more valuable to enable the conditions to support employment such as affordable childcare, access to flexible work and personalised support through job centres.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our research shows that over 70% of JSA claimants say sanctions make it more likely they will comply with reasonable and agreed requirements, and it is understandable that people meet certain expectations in return for benefits.

I wonder if this was a reference to the DWP “case studies” made up of fictitious characters and testimonies, as uncovered by Welfare Weekly ?

The DWP spokesperson continued with platitudes: “We tailor requirements to individual cases and sanctions are only used in a very small percentage of cases when people fail to meet their agreed requirements set out in their claimant commitment.”

Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions Margaret Greenwood said: “The current sanctions system is immoral and ineffective. It is not helping people into employment and at the same time is leaving vulnerable people on the brink of destitution, without any source of income for long periods.”

The authors of the report further conclude that the DWP’s sanctions regime:

“…compromises attempts to end child poverty. At best, current practice fails to support lone parents in the way proposed; at worst, it compounds the disadvantage they already face. The ethical legitimacy of the present system is highly questionable as a consequence.”

wrote in 2015:

Conservative anti-welfare discourse excludes the structural context of unemployment and poverty from public conversation by transforming these social problems into individua ones of ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘worklessness.’ The consequence is an escalating illogic of authoritarian policy measures which have at their core the intensification of punitive conditionality.

Such policies and interventions are then rationalised as innovative […] ultimately the presented political aim is to ‘mend’ Britain’s supposedly ‘broken society’ and to restore a country that ‘lives within its means’… bringing about a neoliberal utopia built on ‘economic competitiveness’ in a ‘global race.’

Disadvantage has become an individualised, private matter, rather than […] an inevitable feature of neoliberal […] competitive individualism. This allows the state to depoliticise social problems, while at the same time, justifying […] changing citizens’ behaviours to fit with neoliberal outcomes.

The government’s policies, founded on scapegoating already marginalised social groups, and creating “hostile environments” for the poorest citizens, including those with disabilities, who have been disproportionately weighed down with the burden of austerity, have caused immeasurable human suffering and untold damage to the very fabric of what was once a civilised society.

The answer to the problems generated by the politically imposed system of neoliberalism that fails the majority of citizens, according to the dogmatic government, is to apparently apply even more rigid neoliberal policies as an almost farcical sticking plaster. 

The Conservative’s answer to social problems such as inequality and poverty, which own policies createand extend, is to impose ideologically formulated “behavioural change” programmes on the poorest citizens, as a prop for dismally failing neoliberalism. All authoritarians are bullies and all bullies aim to change the behaviours of others. This technocratic and authoritarian approach to policy always entails the creation of scapegoats that the government then punish.

In 2002, as party chairwoman, Theresa May told the Conservatives that they were seen as the “nasty party”. Sixteen years later and under her premiership, that description of  an authoritarian and rigidly ideologically driven government has never been more apt.

Related

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

Disabled people are sanctioned more than other people, according to 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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The revolving door of disability assessments and appeal is still killing people who are chronically ill

 

Sandra Burns

Sandra Burns

Social security was originally designed to ensure that everyone was protected from the worst ravages of unfettered capitalism. To say that we have regressed as a society since then is an understatement. 

‘Behavioural economics’ are currently embedded within our current welfare system. This is a technocratic solution to essentially politically created problems. It addresses social problems by simply shifting the blame and responsibility from state to individual. This has led to an increasingly punitive social security system, aimed at pushing people into employment, regardless of whether or not they are able to work. ‘Nudge’ is increasingly being used by an authoritarian Conservative government to ensure citizens behaviours are aligned with neoliberal ideology and policy outcomes.

People who are chronically ill are suffering terribly because of the government’s anti-welfare ideolology. Yet most of us have paid tax and National Insurance to ensure that we have access to social security if or when we need it, only to find that the hostile environment created by by the government has made claiming support an ordeal. 

Back in 2013, I wrote about the terrible impact of  stressful, continuous work capability assessments on disabled people, particularly those with chronic illness. It’s long been understood that stress exacerbates the symptoms of illness. 

Many people have described a “revolving door” process of endless assessment, ceased ESA claim, (based on an outcome of almost invariably being wrongly “assessed” as fit for work), appeal, successful appeal outcome, benefit reinstated, only to find just three or four months later that another assessment is required.

The uncertainty and loss of even the most basic financial security to meet the bare necessities to survive that this process creates, leading to constant fear and anxiety, is having a damaging, negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many. It’s appalling that in a first world so-called liberal democracy, sick and disabled people are being punished for being ill and disabled by a system that was originally intended to support them in meeting their most basic living costs.

Five years on, nothing has changed. People are still dying because of a system that is fundamentally flawed and not fit for purpose. The government are not listening to us. 

I write all too regularly about disabled citizens who have been treated brutally because of Conservative policies, many who have died as a consequence of a system that is intentionally designed to punish people for their need. 

I’m saddened to report that disabled woman has died from a heart attack after she was repeatedly refused vital financial support following disability assessments carried out by a private benefits firm, Atos, over a five year period. 

Sandra Burns, who lived in Luton, was found dead at the bottom of the stairs at her home on 16 April. She was surrounded by letters from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and overdue utility bills, having suffered what is believed to be a massive heart attack. 

Sandra’s brother, Ian, told Luton Today: “She was found dead at the foot of her stairs, apparently of a massive heart attack. 

“She was surrounded by letters informing her that the gas, electricity, water, telephone and television were all in danger of being cut off.” 

“This debt and anxiety lay all around her on the floor”.  

Ian also said that the stress of the process had a degenerative impact on Sandra. He says that the work assessments were “punitive” and that they “ignored the comments of her GP”.

“These appeals would take six to eight months. Every single time, she won the appeal and got a backdated payment. But in that period, she would get into debt and lose her credit rating. 

“And then she’d get back on an even keel until the next year, when the same thing would happen,” he added.

Sandra, who was 57, had worked in retail for 30 years before severe back pain caused by five fused vertebrae in her spine forced her to give up working. She had failed a number of work capability assessments over a five year period but had successfully challenged each decision at appeal. 

The disability assessments were carried out at the time by Atos, on behalf of the DWP, who withdrew from a contract to carry out assessments for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) following widespread failures and mounting criticism. 

Each time she failed an assessment, Sandra found herself looking at a growing mountain of debts while she fought to have the harsh decisions overturned at appeal.

In a letter sent to the DWP before her death, Sandra wrote: “I am old school and would still be working if I could do it. Do you think I would be silly enough to do this? I have always worked.”

Why do they think it’s ok to treat me like this? It’s not acceptable”.

Her Brother Ian said the difficulties of living with a chronic health condition, coupled with having to repeatedly fight for the benefits she desperately needed, caused her health to deteriorate. 

He says that Atos “based their assessment on the fact she could walk the five or six steps of the stairwell to the interview room”.

“She could walk small distances and couldn’t stand for long”, he said.

Every time ATOS assessed her, they judged her fit for work.”

“She described how one man said, ‘I’ve been watching you walk from the waiting room and as far as I’m concerned, you’re fit for work’.”  

Ian Burns, who lives in Denmark, said his sister had become reclusive during the last year of her life, adding that he had last spoke to her on 3 April.

Having not heard from his sister for some time, Ian asked a friend and neighbour to check up on her. 

He said: “They knocked on the door and went around the back. Through the kitchen window, they could see piles of dishes.

“The police came quarter of an hour later. They got through the back door and found her at the bottom of the stairs.”

Ian came to his sister’s home the following day. “I came the next day … all around the sofa was a pile of letters and debts.

“It was terrible heartbreak and I just feel it could have all been avoided… everyone is treated as cheats or maybe the DWP have an agenda.

“Whatever it is, it’s putting people like Sandra under incredible amounts of stress.”

A DWP spokesman, offering the usual discordant platitudes, said: “Our thoughts are with Ms Burns’ family. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people get the support they’re entitled to. 

“Assessments are carried out by qualified healthcare professionals who look at how someone’s disability or health condition impacts them on a day-to-day basis.”

Disabled people protesting about the punitive disability assessments in Parliament

 

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article and need support, please contact the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK).

Related

What you need to know about Atos assessments

Thousands of disability benefit assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ by the Government’s own quality audits

Atos’s PR company director wants me to phone him about one of my articles

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

The ESA ‘Revolving Door’ Process, and its Correlation with a Significant Increase in Deaths among Sick and Disabled People

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Disability Income Guarantee abolished under Universal Credit rules – a sly and cruel cut

 


 

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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Disabled people facing government hostility in the UK – Mo Stewart

A protest outside Atos in London in July 2017

 

Last year I wrote an article about how the social security system in the UK has been re-structured around “ordeals”, which were introduced by the Conservative government in order to discipline and “disincentivise” citizens from claiming welfare support, by undermining any sense of security people may have of fulfiling their most basic needs.  Welfare support is extremely conditional and precarious. Ordeals are intrinsic to a system of punishment that the draconian Conservatives claim will “change the behaviours” of underpaid, unemployed and disabled people. By creating a hostile environment, the government are somehow claiming that it’s possible to simply punish people out of poverty. 

My friend, Mo Stewart writes, today in the Guardian (Letters 

“The British public have reacted to “a sense of betrayal of that so-called British value of fairness” (The hostile environment? Britain’s disabled people live there too, the guardian.com, 26 April). This “sense of betrayal” was only possible because the national press reported the plight of the Windrush scandal, but this is not always the case. Some of the press were happy to promote the exaggerated claims of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which, during five years of coalition government, knowingly misled the public regarding “fake” claimants of disability benefit. Coincidentally, disability hate crimes increased by 213% during the coalition’s term in office.

Influenced by a US healthcare insurance “consultant”, who funded DWP-commissioned research used to justify welfare reforms, the work capability assessment (WCA) adopted the bio-psychosocial model of assessment which has failed all academic scrutiny. The WCA is used by the DWP to resist access to the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness and disability benefit, which is the financial equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance, so there is no financial incentive when claiming ESA.”

This DWP assessment totally disregards diagnosis, prognosis, past medical history and all medical opinion. Deaths of genuine claimants were always inevitable. There is a reason why the DWP has refused to publish updated ESA mortality totals since February 2014, as suicides linked to the ESA assessment climb. It’s time for this ideological DWP tyranny to end, and for the national press to stop disregarding another national atrocity impacting on disabled people.”

The letter was signed by:

Mo Stewart Independent disability studies researcher 
Professor Woody Caan Editor, Journal of Public Mental Health 
Dr Tanya Titchkosky Professor of disability studies, University of Toronto 
Professor Peter Beresford Professor of citizen participation, Essex University
Dr Marion Hersh Senior lecturer, biomedical engineering, Glasgow University
Dr Dominic Griffiths Senior lecturer in Inclusive Education and SEN, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Anne Daguerre Assistant professor in work, employment and welfare, Middlesex University
Dr Simon Duffy Director, Centre for Welfare Reform
Vin West Chair, Arfon Access Group,
and others.

Related image

 

Related

Rogue company Unum’s profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper

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

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of 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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The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies

Image result for eugenics 2 child policy UK

The prejudice and stereotypes that fuelled eugenic thinking during the last century. In the UK, the Conservatives’ policies reflect this regressive and authoritarian approach to a class-based ‘population control’. 

In 2015 I wrote an article that expressed my grave concerns about the Conservatives’ welfare cuts. I discussed the Conservatives’ announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families, in what amounts to a two-child policy. Welfare rules with such a clearly defined eugenic basis, purposefully aimed at reducing the family size of some social groups – in this case the poorest citizens – rarely come without serious repercussions.

Iain Duncan Smith said in 2014 that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents.

Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the erroneous underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making, labour market conditions, ideologically driven socioeconomic policies and politically imposed structural constraints.

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.

Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class contingent policy.

I also wrote: Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion – then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter.

That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those citizens who have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members. Furthermore, abortion as an outcome of state policy rather than personal choice is a deeply traumatic experience, as accounts from those who have experienced such coercion have testified. Although dressed up in the terminology of  behavioural economics, if the state limits choices for some social groups, that is a discriminatory, coercive form of behaviourism. Removing support for a third child is also discriminatory.

UK poverty charity Turn2Us recently submitted written evidence to the Work and Pensions select committee, regarding the ongoing inquiry into the impact of the Benefit Cap.

The charity’s report discusses worrying trends reported by their helpline over the last year: “The most worrying trend that is emerging is pregnant women asking the call handler to undertake a benefit check to ascertain what they would be entitled to if they continue with the pregnancy, citing that the outcome will help them to decide whether they continue with the pregnancy or terminate it.” 

Those women who have abortions from choice are very often not prepared emotionally to deal with the aftermath, finding themselves experiencing unexpected grief, anger and depression. 

Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) is a group of psychological symptoms that include guilt, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, a desire to avoid children or pregnant women, and traumatic flashbacks to the abortion itself.

Women considering abortion and those who feel they have no other choice have a right to know about the possible emotional and psychological risks of their choice. One of the biggest risk factors for the development of PAS arises when the abortion is forced, or chosen under pressure. Research suggests women commonly feel pressured into abortion, either by other people or by circumstances. And sometimes, by the state.

Many people choose to have children when they are in favorable circumstances. However, employment has become increasingly precarious over the last decade, and wages have been depressed and stagnated. The cost of living has also risen, leaving many in hardship. A large number of citizens move in and out of work, as opportunity permits. The Conservatives say that “work is the route out of poverty”, and claim employment is at an “all time high”, yet this has not helped people out of poverty at all. The ‘gig economy’ has simply made opportunities to secure, well paid employment much scarcer.

The two-child policy treats some children as somehow less deserving of support intended to meet their basic needs, purely because of the order of their birth. 

Abortion should be freely chosen, it should never be an outcome of state policy in a so-called civilised democracy.

Yesterday I read about ‘Sally’ (not her real name) and the heartbreaking choice she was forced to make. She says she could not bear for family and friends to know what she has been through, so she wished to remain anonymous. Sally and her partner discovered, almost halfway through her pregnancy, that the government no longer pays child tax credit and the child element of universal credit for more than two children. The rule applies to babies born after April 6, 2017 and it’s been widely condemned by human rights and women’s rights organisations, religious leaders and child poverty campaigners.

Last month the charity mentioned earlier – Turn2us – which helps people to navigate access to social security benefits, tweeted that they have seen a “worrying trend” of pregnant women contacting them with questions about the social security benefits they are entitled to and saying they may have to terminate their pregnancies as a result of the savage cuts.

Sally’s extremely distressing experience adds evidence to this account. She and her partner already have two children; sons aged 4 and 5. She’s currently receiving universal credit after being found fit for work following 12 years of claiming employment and support allowance, as she suffers from PTSD.

She explains that she doesn’t live with her partner as they can’t afford to live together. She goes on to say: “[The pregnancy] wasn’t planned as such but it wasn’t avoided.

“We were happy to have another child if it happened and we had discussed after the last one was born that we would be very happy to have another child.”

Sally explained her partner is looking for work, but is finding it very difficult to find suitable employment.

“He is currently studying to be a personal trainer so he can earn money to support us.”

Knowing that money would be tight but trusting in her partner’s future earning potential and the safety net of the social security safety net, Sally began to buy items for the baby and booked herself in for a scan.

It was her third successful pregnancy so she knew what to expect and was delighted when she began to feel kicks and movement.

Then she says that she heard news that changed everything. “I was four months along and planning what other things we would need to buy for this baby, and then my friend said any child born after 2017, you will not be able to get any extra money for.

Sally replied “that cannot possibly be true.”

But sadly it is. Sally and her partner were then forced to make a decision they would never have contemplated otherwise. “We are barely surviving now,” says Sally.

“I have two sons but I’ve been denied the chance to have a daughter” – [because of] the callous policy that forces women across the country to choose between their unborn child and being able to look after their existing ones.” 

Many people in work rely on tax credits or Universal Credit to support their families because their earnings are too low to meet the cost of living. Even if Sally’s partner found employment, they would still be unable to claim additional support for another child.

Sally told the Mirror that following her termination, she came around from the anaesthetic crying.

She had been fully sedated while the doctors terminated her four-month pregnancy, a pregnancy she says she had desperately wanted to continue. Sally says “It wasn’t planned, but it was very wanted.”

“I was crying when wheeled me in. They kept asking ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ and I couldn’t even answer, I just had to nod my head.” She goes on to say “I think it’s something I will never forgive myself for.”

“I knew we couldn’t do it to the children already born and we couldn’t do it to the unborn child.” Sally added.

“We thought we could make it work somehow but, honestly, even if we both got a job and 85% of our childcare paid for we still could not afford childcare let alone food.”

Cancelling a scan and midwife appointments, Sally instead booked herself in for a termination. At four months gone that could no longer be a swift appointment, she needed a general anaesthetic and an operation.

I cried at every appointment regarding the termination and I woke up crying from the operation as well,” she said.

I think it’s something I will never forgive myself for. I know I should have prevented it from happening in the first place. My partner was devastated but he tried not to show any emotion because I was so upset.

“He also couldn’t come with me as he had to look after our children so I went alone.”

As the couple prepared to end the pregnancy they tried to find a way to make it work.

“Even on the day he kept saying: ‘Are we sure we should do this? There must be some way that we can keep it.’”

In desperation, they even discussed whether her partner should earn money in less legitimate ways. “He was ready to turn back to crime to support us,” admitted Sally. “But I said if he is in jail how can I cope alone with 3 kids and no money?”

It’s left Sally questioning whether politicians have any regard or respect for her children, and what kind of system leaves her with no choice but to abort a wanted pregnancy or rely on crime to get by.

I feel guilty, ashamed, angry. The Government does not value my right to a family at all or my family, I’m being penalised for being born poor.

I have two sons but I’ve been denied the chance to have a daughter unless we live in complete and utter poverty. I’m disgusted by the Government; I think a two-child limit is sick and disgusting.”

No-one should ever be placed in such a terrible and distressing situation in a wealthy, so-called civilised society. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has described the two-child limit as “ensur[ing] that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work”.

Everyone pays for the welfare system. People move in and out of work and contribute when they earn. Many people affected by the two-child policy are actually in work. Wages have been depressed and have stagnated, while the cost of living has risen. It’s a myth that there is a discrete class of people that pays tax and another that does not. People who need lifeline welfare support also pay taxes. Many in work are not paid enough to support themselves and therefore rely on support. The problems that needs to be addressed are insecure employment and low pay, but instead the government is punishing citizens for the hardships caused by their own policies

It is grossly inhumane and unfair to punish those citizens and their children affected by circumstances that are constrained because of political and socioeconomic conditions. 

This is a point that completely disregards the fact that 70% of those claiming tax credits are in work, according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). And it ignores the desperation of women like Sally, forced to abort pregnancies they want to keep.

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at abortion provider thBritish Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), says: “Financial pressures, job or housing insecurity are often among key reasons for women deciding to end an unwanted pregnancy.

“But the third child benefit cap is more than that because it penalises those already in the most challenging financial circumstances – and as anti-poverty campaigners have noted, it breaks what has been a fundamental link between need and the provision of support, and also discriminates against children simply because of the order they were born in.

“As a charity that has spent the last five decades counselling pregnant women, we know that women don’t decide to continue with pregnancies because they think they could make a bit of money doing so – £7.60 per day to be precise, when it comes to child tax credit for poorer families,” Clare said.

“They do so because that child is wanted and would be a much-loved addition to their family.”  

Moreover, this rule implies that women can always control their fertility when in fact they don’t even have an automatic right to abortion if their contraception lets them down.

“Contraception frequently fails women,” said Clare. “More than half of women we see for advice about unplanned pregnancy were using contraception when they conceived, including many women using the effective hormonal methods.

“We have seen cuts to contraceptive services and one reason BPAS campaigned so hard last year to bring the price of emergency contraception down was because we feared some women were simply being priced out of protection when their regular method failed.

“Ministers speak about people having to make ‘choices’ about the number of children in their families. It is important to note that women in the UK still do not have the right to choose abortion – it can only be provided if two doctors agree that she meets certain criteria and the abortion takes places in specific licensed premises, unlike any other medical procedure.”

Pritie Billimoria, head of communications at Turn2us, said: “A third child is worth no more or no less than a first or second born.

“No parent can see into the future. Parents may be able to comfortably support a third child today but may be a bereavement, divorce or redundancy away from needing state help. We need to see children protected from growing up in poverty in the UK and that means scrapping this limit.”

Parents may become ill or have an accident that leaves them disabled and unable to work, too. It is immoral to punish people and their children for circumstances that are very often outside of their control. 

The policy also been roundly criticised by religious leaders: 60 Church of England bishops joined the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain to call for the policy to be scrapped. Many childrens’ charities, human rights and equality campaigners have also condemned the policy.

The Government has removed benefits from children who simply have no say in being born or in the number of existing children in their families and the results are already showing.

CPAG estimates that more than 250,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of this measure by the end of the decade, representing a 10% increase in child poverty. Meanwhile a similar number of children already living in poverty will fall deeper into poverty.

A Government spokesperson said: “This policy ensures fairness between claimants and those who support themselves solely through work. We’ve always been clear the right exceptions are in place and consulted widely on them.” 

Note the word “solely”. This policy applies to low paid families, too. Yet no family would choose to be poorly paid for their work. This is a punishment for the sins and profit incentive of exploitative employers, and as such, it is profoundly unfair and unjust.

Clare Murphy goes on to say “We see abortion as a fundamental part of women’s healthcare and something which should be a genuine matter of choice – no woman should be left in the position of undergoing abortion because she simply would not be able to put food on the plate or clothes on the back of a new baby. 

As I wrote in 2015, 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 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, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families. 

People who are in favour of eugenics 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. 

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the fittest” philosophy and sociopolitical rationalisations of inequality.

Eugenics is now considered to be extremely unethical and it was criticised and condemned widely when its role in justification narratives of the Holocaust was revealed. 

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It’s hardly likely that a government of a so-called first world liberal democracy – and fully signed up member of the European Convention on Human Rights and a signatory also to the United Nations Universal Declaration – will publicly declare their support of eugenics, or their authoritarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable” and 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.

Human rights and the implications of the Conservatives’ two-child policy 

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 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.”

Another worry is the impact of changes to welfare, and ministers’ decision to cut  £12bn more from the benefits budget. As of 2015, there were 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power. Earlier this year, the government’s own figures showed that the number of children in poverty across the UK had surged by 100,000 in just one a year, prompting calls for ministers to urgently review cuts to child welfare. Government statistics published on in January  show 4.1 million children are now living in relative poverty after household costs, compared with four million the previous year, accounting for more than 30 per cent of children in the country. The Government’s statistics are likely to understate the problem, too.

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.

 


 

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DWP is facing investigation following the suicide of 42-year-old mum of nine

Jodey Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, with Jodey’s daughter Emma Bell (Image: Ian McIntyre)

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing a legal investigation after a mother of nine took her own life “because the DWP stopped her benefits”. 

Jodey Whiting, who suffered severely disabling medical conditions, ended her own life in February 2017, shortly after the DWP stopped her disability support payments. The payments stopped because was claimed by the DWP that Jodey failed to attend a work capability assessment (WCA).

However, her family claims that she never received the appointment letter and is blaming the Government for her suicide.

The 42-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with a brain cyst and curvature of the spine and could barely walk to her own front door, but an inquest has heard that despite her  disabilities, Jodey Whiting faced a distressing battle with the DWP for lifeline benefits.

Supported by volunteers from the Citizens Advice Bureau, Jodey appealed the DWP decision to end her claim, but was told that due to a backlog in appeals it could take up to sixteen months before her case was reviewed.

Her mother, Joy Dove, who assisted her daughter in claiming the lifeline support she was entitled to, has taken up the battle with the DWP following her daughter’s death. She told Gazette Live“To have to wait another 16 months is devastating, but we can’t do anything about the fact there are so many cases that need investigating.

“I’m glad they’ve taken the case on. We will always fight for justice for my daughter.

“She has kids and grandchildren left without a mum, and I’ve been left without a daughter. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

The case will now be investigated by an Independent Case Examiner (ICE), who will look at the circumstances surrounding Jodey’s death and whether the DWP’s decision to stop her benefits affected her metal state at the time of Jodey’s suicide.

The ICE will looks at five key parts of the case against the DWP:

  • The Citizen’s Advice Bureau sent a letter to the DWP regarding Jodey’s health issues on February 15, six days before her death, but it failed to act on it until March 23.
  • Despite being made aware of her death on February 23 using the ‘tell us once’ system, the DWP issued a claim to Jodey about her Employment Support Allowance claim on February 25.
  • The DWP failed to take appropriate action to upgrade their computer systems until March 1.
  • The DWP continued to call Jodey’s phone and leave her voicemail messages until May, despite knowing of her death.
  • The department failed to respond to Mrs Dove’s letter of April 13, 2017 until June 14, 2017.

Jodey had been sent a letter that instructed her to attend a work capability assessment on January 16 last year, but missed the mandatory meeting while being in hospital because of a brain cyst. She knew nothing about the appointment.

On February 6, the DWP ruled that Jodey had not ‘provided sufficient evidence’ for missing the appointment and stopped her disability benefits. Jodey raised concerns about the decision on February 10 and made a formal appeal on the 13th. She killed herself on February 21, before a different DWP decision maker had reviewed her case and decided on February 25 – just four days after her death – that she should have continued to receive disability benefits.

A message about the ruling was sent to Jodey’s mobile phone inbox after her death, despite the DWP being informed of her death.

Joy has also started a ‘Justice for Jodey’ petition, with the aim of persuading the DWP to look again at how it handles social security claims. You can sign it here: you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/justice-for-jodey

She said that messages of support there have helped her as she struggles to overcome her grief: “We’ll never stop battling. The messages I get on the petition, and from people who have been in similar situations, are incredible.”

The DWP did not respond for requests for comment.


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A word of caution about Esther McVey’s ‘u-turn’ on housing benefit for young people

youth obligationThanks to Joe Halewood for the screenshot

A little background on the “Youth Obligation”.

Thenational living wage(which is actually an inadequate rise in the minimum wage) was one of the centrepieces of the Osborne budget back in 2015 – which does not apply to those people under 25. Osborne exhorted young people to “earn or learn” in a budget speech that also cut their entitlement to receiving benefits and student grants, prompting serious complaints that young people had been unfairly targeted.  

The policy to end automatic entitlement for the housing element of Universal Credit was announced by David Cameron and Osborne in 2014 and was introduced last April. Housing and homeless organisations warned last year that it will cause grave hardship and force cash-strapped councils to meet higher costs for emergency accommodation. The plans of a review, and potential for a government u-turn on the housing element payment for young people were actually announced last year.

The controversial policy has now been dropped to “reassure young people” they will “receive the help with housing costs that they need.”

McVey said: “The change I am announcing today means that young people on benefits will be assured that if they secure a tenancy, they will have support towards their housing costs in the normal way.”

Matt Hancock released details of ‘radical plans’ in August 2015 “to end long-term youth unemployment and decades of welfare dependency.” He “pledged that the cross-government Earn or Learn Taskforce he chairs will create a ‘no excuses’ culture to support youth employment. ” 

However, we know by now that ‘targeted support’ is a euphemism for draconian welfare conditionality and sanctions. Of course the Conservatives’ ideas were not original. They were imported from the neoliberal Tony Abbott led coalition government in Australia, who announced their ‘earn or learn’ programme back in 2014. Like our own Conservative government, the neoliberal Abbott administration framed welfare as a “trap”, claiming the existence of a ‘culture of dependency’, a radical New Right myth extended from the likes of Charles Murray, which has been thoroughly debunked over the last few decades.

To sustain an ideological commitment to ‘small state’ antiwelfarism, neoliberal welfare narratives are reduced to a language about creating ‘incentives’ and discipline as opposed the traditional established narratives that portray a safety net provision to support people in meeting their basic survival needs (food, fuel and shelter). 

The traditional justification for paying citizens social security in order to ensure they can meet their fundamental needs has been ludicrously turned on its head and presented as a ‘malfunction’ of welfare – apparently it ‘creates poverty’ instead of alleviating it – by neoliberals.

In addition, welfare dependency arguments are based on a number of false assumptions and prejudices, because of the ‘small state’ ideological commitments of neoliberals.  There is a long tradition, stretching back to the Poor Law Amendment act of the 1830s, of political capitalists trying to use welfare to ‘improve’ the poor. Conservatives and some of the economic liberals (as opposed to social liberals) tend to present ‘problems’ with welfare in a moralistic way – they say it systemises “perverse incentives”, or that it it rewards “immoral behaviour”. The goal of welfare reform from this perspective is therefore justified as being about paternalism: administering and imposing discipline, instilling the “right attitude” and coercing behavioural change, rather than alleviating absolute poverty.

The “Youth Obligation” is simply an extension of that approach.

Reservations’ have been expressed about the Youth Obligation’s mandatory requirement that young jobseekers apply for a training opportunity or work placement after six months of claiming support. 

The Youth Obligation programme, in areas where full universal credit is running, requires claimants aged between 18 and 21 to undergo ‘intensive job-support training, including work experience, skills workshops, mentoring, help with job applications and interviews, and training in maths, English and IT.’

Those young people still unemployed after six months are given compulsory vocational training and work experience in a sector with a high number of vacancies or encouraged to take up a traineeship.

The youth homelessness charity Centrepoint commissioned the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to seek the views of vulnerable young people, as well as training providers and charitable organisations who work with them, to further explore the possible implications of the Youth Obligation for the most disadvantaged young people.

Young people surveyed, who had experience of unemployment and/or were living in supported accommodation, consistently stressed that they would only be encouraged to engage in a training opportunity or work placement if it was linked to their career aspirations, or if it did not present other barriers such as being too far to travel or not providing sufficient pay. If Jobcentre Plus were unable to provide access to high-quality opportunities they could see value in, many felt that they would simply disengage and stop claiming benefit.

Previous research has shown how homeless young people find it difficult to meet the conditionality terms of their benefit claim, and are disproportionately affected by benefit sanctions compared to the wider claimant population.

However, it is inexcusable that the state considers it is justified in withdrawing financial support that is meant to ensure people can meet their basic living requirements, if young people, living in a wide range of circumstances, cannot meet the inflexible, behaviourist conditionality requirements, including those of the work fare scheme.  

The ‘U-turn’ on housing costs for young people

 The UK government has announced today that it will amend social security regulations so that all 18 to 21-year-olds will be entitled to claim support for housing costs within the scope of Universal Credit provision. The announcement has been timed for the upcoming local elections in May.

The government says its ‘rethink’ is in line with their Homelessness Reduction aims, which comes into force next month, ‘reiterating its commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027’.

Young people will also be given “comprehensive and intensive work-focussed support”, whether they are ‘learning’ or ‘earning’, as part of the ‘Youth Obligation’. Young people will need to sign up to this commitment to be eligible for housing support.

Work and Pensions Secretary of State, Esther McVey, said: “We want every young person to have the confidence to strive to fulfil their ambitions.

“For those young people who are vulnerable or face extra barriers, Universal Credit provides them with intensive, personalised support to move into employment, training or work experience; so no young person is left behind as they could be under the old benefits system.

“As we rollout Universal Credit, we have always been clear we will make any necessary changes along the way. This announcement today will reassure all young people that housing support is in place if they need it.”.

Denise Hatton, Chief Executive for YMCA England & Wales, said: “YMCA welcomes today’s announcement by the Government but we have long argued that the policy was flawed from the outlet and would not deliver what the Government said it would.

“Our 2015 research showed that scrapping housing benefit for young people wouldn’t drive them to ‘earn or learn’ as the majority would find it impossible to find training and employment without having a stable and safe home.

“By removing automatic entitlement to housing support, the Government took away a vital safety net from some of the country’s most vulnerable young people, who have no choice but to rely on it during their times of crisis and need.

“Reinstating housing benefit allows thousands of young people across the country to get the helping hand their need and support them to get their lives back on track.”

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Labour welcomes this major U-turn and the fact that the Government have enacted another policy from our popular manifesto.

“However, housing support has been frozen until 2020 and young people still face major problems in finding affordable housing.

“The sight of young people sleeping on our streets has become all too common under this Conservative Government. Behind the homelessness figures, there are many young adults having to sofa surf or remain living with their parents.

“Labour will invest in genuinely affordable housing, regulate the private rented sector and ensure that all young people have a secure home.”

SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson Neil Gray said: “This major u turn from the Tories shows they have finally realised that penalising young people – as they had done until now – is simply callous and could only lead to a rise in homelessness for young people.

“Any change of policy in the shambolic and damaging roll out of UC is welcome – but we need to see detail from the DWP on what they mean by saying young people will need to sign up to a ‘youth obligation‘ before accessing this much-needed benefit – how that will work.

“We also need clarification on whether or not these changes will be linked in any way with sanctions. Our young people need support into work and into homes and not to be penalised as they start their life by having vital financial support removed from them.

“The SNP Scottish Government has always mitigated this callous policy and provided support to under 21s through the Scottish Welfare Fund, and the social security bill ensured this support would be in legislation – at an estimated cost of up to £6.5 million by 2020.

“It is shameful that it’s taken the UK Government till now before realising this policy was just wrong from the start.

“The Tories think they make any cuts in welfare and get away with it – £4bn in annual cuts to Scotland by the end of the decade. now they have u-turned on this, they can reverse all these cuts and realise people need a helping hand up not pushed into poverty.”

The other catch

As Joe Halewood scathingly points out, the amount of housing costs payable under Universal Credit to young people may be limited to the shared accommodation rate (SAR) for 18 – 21 year olds in private sector housing. There are limited exemptions from SAR, but some only apply to people of certain ages. The outcome of these changes to young people’s housing support is that the majority of single young people aged under 35 who are unable to work, looking for work or on a low income will be living in houses that have multiple occupation. 

Today’s announcement neglected to include the information regarding the reduced rate of housing benefit under the Local Housing Allowance rules. Social housing more generally is difficult to access, but young people are even more constrained. This is, in part due to  a decrease in the number of social housing completions. There is currently little political support for social housing from the government.

During the Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015, Osborne announced an intention to restrict the level of Housing Benefit, or the housing element of Universal Credit, claimed by tenants in social housing (council and housing association ‘stock’) to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate. LHA rates currently apply to most Housing Benefit claimants living in the private rented sector and entitlement is related to household size. A delay in applying the LHA caps and an extension to all Universal Credit claimants was announced during the Autumn Statement 2016, after many charities and academics raised concerns regarding the likely negative impacts. 

Housing Benefit restrictions based on the size of the property occupied have applied to tenants in the private rented sector since 1989. However further changes to legislation were made in 2011, which restricted the number of rooms permitted per child under the age of 18 if they were same sex, and under 16 if they weren’t. Children under those ages are expected to share a bedroom. 

Theresa May dropped the plans to cap housing benefit for social housing and supported accommodation, which had been blamed for an 85% decline in new homes being built for vulnerable people last October.

The prime minister told MPs in the Commons that it would no longer roll out welfare changes that would have resulted in people living in sheltered accommodation having their housing benefit capped in line with private sector rents. The changes were set to save the Treasury £520m by 2020.

May said it was important to “ensure the funding model is right so all providers of supported housing are able to access funding effectively”.

Several schemes for new housing for vulnerable people have either been postponed, cancelled or face closure, a drop from 8,800 to just 1,350 homes, a survey for the National Housing Federation found last year . Uncertainty over the proposed changes to housing benefit have been blamed by many for the decline.

Critics said the LHA rates would have created a postcode lottery and had no relationship to the cost of providing specialist housing in supported accommodation, which include homes for war veterans, disabled people and women fleeing domestic violence.

The shadow housing minister, John Healey, said his party was “winning the arguments and making the running on government policy” but said it would look closely at the detail. 

Labour was due to call on the government to rule out cuts to supported housing during an opposition day debate, but following the climbdown, Healey said the prime minister now needed to commit to a system “which safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported housing”.

The Conservatives’ had originally planned the move to apply LHA rates to Housing Benefit claimants living in the social rented sector, which would have meant that the SAR would also apply to council and housing association tenants under the age of 35 from April 2019 if they are in receipt of Universal Credit, or if their tenancy began or was renewed after April 2016 and they are not living in supported accommodation. (Source: House of Commons Library research briefing, 13 November 2017).

I can’t help but wonder what caveat Esther McVey was referring to in her dissembling use of the vague phrase “in the normal way”. 

‘Securing a tenancy’ isn’t an easy task for young people who need to on very low incomes. Young people tend to have low eligibility for social housing, with priority being given to families. There is a lack of social housing that is suitable for young people, also. Furthermore, The traditional presumption that younger people have recourse to the parental home has been challenged by the introduction of the ‘spare room subsidy’, which finacially penalises parents in social housing for keeping a room free in case their adult children may need to return.

The Conservatives have tended to place an emphasis on home ownership and the private sector in particular, for example: “We want to support the private rented sector to grow, to meet continuing demand for rented homes” (HM Government, 2011; Cameron, 2014).

It has always been the case, historically, that younger people are most strongly represented in the private rented sector,because this sector is the most readily accessible to this group.  A survey (Shelter, 2014) found that less than a quarter (23 per cent) of working adults aged 20-34 living in the parental home wanted to be there, and that the lack of affordable housing was the main stated reason for still living at home. At the same time, wider changes in the economy and labour market have made it harder for young people to enter, remain and progress in employment. 

Under the Localism Act, 2011, local authorities are now empowered to discharge their homelessness duty to households deemed statutorily homeless through the offer of a twelve-month private rented sector assured shorthold tenancy. Younger single
people, who as ‘non-priority’ cases have largely been excluded from social housing provision as a consequence of their perceived lower level of need, are now increasingly in competition for property with ‘priority’ households that have in the past been offered a social housing tenancy.

The failure to meet the housing needs of young people is predicated on a presumption that the parental home will always be available if affordable privately rented property is not available. However as I have stated, the bedroom tax prevents parents from keeping a room for their adult children, in the event of them returning home. The government has consistently failed to respond to the housing option constraints place on young people.

To date we have seen every indication that the implementation of Universal Credit is about cutting the level of support that people received under the old system, to the point where even some of its proponents have feared it has become too mean and inadequate to work for those it is meant to help.

Disabled people, for example, are set to lose the disability premiums under Universal Credit that are currently payable under the employment and support (ESA) benefit. The disability income guarantee is set to be abolished for new claimants who are disabled, and the cut will affect many of those who have a change of circumstances, too, such as moving to an area with full Universal Credit roll-out while they are still claiming ESA.

Crisis and other charities have campaigned against the SAR, saying that the modest single room rate would exclude people from housing and increase the risk of homelessness for people in the under-35 age group. (The definition of ‘young person’ was also changed by the government, from under 25  to under 35).

Charities were also concerned that there was not enough accommodation to cater for people under the age of 35 who would require rooms in shared accommodation. There were also concerns that people would be pushed into unsuitable housing or into sharing accommodation inappropriately.

In January, government statistics revealed it would not make the savings ministers had originally thought because most young people claiming housing costs fell within the exemptions that were published alongside the legislation. This indicates that young people claim housing costs because they need to, rather than just because of a ‘lifestyle choice,’ as the government had previously implied.

David Orr, chief executive at the National Housing Federation, said: “It’s very good news the government are restoring housing benefit to 18-21 year olds.

“This benefit cut has been creating great confusion over whether young people were eligible for these vital funds. Housing associations have told us that as a result they have seen more young, vulnerable people sleeping rough, or forced to depend on unscrupulous private landlords and dangerous accommodation. This was a policy that made no sense and today’s decision is a positive sign they are listening on welfare reform.”

It’s only taken the government five years and immense amounts of pressure from the opposition, charities and academics to see the damage and harm that these policies are causing. The small concession has just restored provision for young citizens to meet a basic survival need, which should never have been removed in the first place, in a wealthy, so-called civilised society.

However, any support provided under Universal Credit is precarious, and constantly under threat from the extended, draconian sanction regime, which includes punitive financial penalties and the withdrawal of lifeline support to people in work but on low pay or working part-time hours. Even if young people manage to navigate the series of ordeals built into the rigid and old school behaviourist conditionality of the Youth Obligation, there are further ordeals awaiting, even if they find work.

Young people are very likely to be low earners who require additional Universal Credit support to meet living costs, and because the ‘national living wage’ is paid only to those aged 25 and over, this simply adds to the problems experienced by this social group. The government welfare ‘reforms (a euphemism for cuts) were never about “making work pay”. They were about dismantling our social security system, a cut at a time.

Now the government have perhaps realised that those social groups that have been disproportionately targeted for affected by their austerity programme are actually comprised of voters too. The Conservatives are currently attempting to engage with young people to persuade them vote for them. 

There is still a long way to go before we may celebrate such a small concession on the part of a government that has demonstrated over and over just how much it despises our vital social security safety net. The same government that introduced the bedroom tax and two welfare caps, cuts to disabled people’s vital lifeline support and has presided over a deregulated job market offering increasingly insecure, poor quality and low paid employment for the past eight years, whilst steadily dismantling our essential social safety net.

Image result for housing benefit claim


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

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The DWP are being Conservative with the truth, yet again

Sarah's story: Turned out to be fiction rather than fact

Sarah’s story: Turned out to be fiction rather than fact


In 2015, Welfare Weekly exposed the Department for Work and Pensions for using fake testimonies from fake characters via a well-placed freedom of information (FoI) request, revealing that the lengths that the government is prepared to go to justify extremely punitive policies. Remarkably, even the 
Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)  were alarmed at the level of deception, and said it had written to all of its members who work at the Department to find out whether they had played any part in putting the leaflet together. 

Sarah Pinch, the CIPR’s president, said: “Falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support is a naive and opaque technique which blatantly disregards the CIPR’s standards of ethical conduct. It is deeply disappointing if public relations professionals allowed it to be published.” 

This happened during the same month that the it was only this month that the UK statistics watchdog censured the DWP for understating the scale” of its sanctions regime – essentially failing to release adequate data to give jobseekers or the public a genuine picture of the way it’s imposing sanctions, and of monitoring the real impact of this draconian policy. The revelation that the DWP has faked information to distort the reality that so many citizens face is reflective of how deep the rot is in the entire system. 

Then there are the fictional statistics. Iain Duncan Smith was rebuked by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the ‘misuse’ of benefit statistics  his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap is “unsupported by the official statistics”, says the UK Statistics Authority. 

In letter to Duncan Smith, Andrew Dilnot writes: “In the manner and form published, the statistics do not comply fully with the principles of the Code of Practice, particularly in respect of accessibility to the sources of data, information about the methodology and quality of the statistics, and the suggestion that the statistics were shared with the media in advance of their publication.”

Another claim by Duncan Smith later in the same month also drew criticism and a reprimand. The (then) minister said around 1 million people have been stuck on benefits for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”.

However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting testing. Grant Shapps was also rebuked by UK Statistics Authority for misrepresenting benefit figures the Tory chairman claimed that “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.

The figures, he claimed, “demonstrate how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important”. The claim was faithfully reported by the Sunday Telegraph  but as the UK Statistics Authority confirmed in its response to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, it was entirely fabricated.

In his letter to Shapps and Duncan Smith, UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot wrote that the figure conflated “official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA”. Of the 603,600 incapacity benefit claimants referred for reassessment as part of the introduction of the ESA between March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps’s “nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012. 

The figure of 878,300 refers to the total of new claims for the ESA closed before medical assessment from October 2008 to May 2012. Thus, Shapps’s suggestion that the 878,300 were pre-existing claimants, who would rather lose their benefits than be exposed as “scroungers”, was entirely wrong. Significantly, there is no evidence that those who abandoned their claims did so for the reasons ascribed by Shapps.

Now the DWP have been found out submitting fake claims to the Work and Pensions Committee. The DWP claimed the Institute for Fiscal Stdies (IFS) had reviewed its data which asserts that UC will help more than 250,000 people into employment, once the flagship welfare reform is fully implemented across the UK. However the IFS have contradicted the claim, leading to heavy criticism regarding the DWP’s statement and ‘evidence’ regarding Universal Credit’s ‘causal relatonship’ with employment. 

The Committee says:

“A central part of the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) case for the benefit of Universal Credit (UC) is their assertion of its effect on employment. In to a request for an estimate of the magnitude of that effect, DWP stated it has “determined” that UC will result in 250,000 more people in employment once it is fully implemented.

How the Department ‘arrived’ at these figures

In a follow up letter to Employment Minister Alok Sharma (PDF PDF 1.38 MB)Opens in a new window the Chair asked a set of specific questions about how the Department had arrived at each of the stated constituent parts of that figure:

  • 150,000 more due to “increased financial incentives to work” 
  • 50,000 more due to “increased conditionality”
  • 60,000 due to “simplification of the benefit system”

(That’s basically euphemisms for cuts, sanctions, and more cuts and sanctions)

The Department’s response (PDF PDF 800 KB)Opens in a new window did not answer any of the Chair’s specific questions, although it did supply an account of academic research papers that have informed the Department’s work on UC, and restated the principles underlying those three ostensible benefits of the reform.

DWP concluded by stating: “The approach to our analysis underpinning these estimates was reviewed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.”

Accordingly, the Committee wrote to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) (PDF PDF 141 KB)Opens in a new window asking if, in that review, it had found those three estimates reasonable, and what the margin of statistical error might be on the numbers.

The IFS’ reply (PDF PDF 197 KB)Opens in a new window starts out “clarifying the role we had in reviewing DWP’s approach” in coming up with the numbers:

Note that at no stage did we review their approach to estimating the impact of increased conditionality or simplification, to which they attribute 50,000 and 60,000 respectively of the overall 250,000 forecast effect on employment”.

The employment impact of Universal Credit is highly uncertain

The IFS goes on to say: “Neil Couling’s letter to Baroness Hollis on 16 November states that the 250,000 figure is based on the same methodology we reviewed in 2012. For the reasons given above, that can only be true of the element (150,000) which is a result of changes to financial incentives. And we are not in a position to confirm whether and to what extent DWP took on board our comments and implemented our recommended improvements before applying the methodology….”

The employment impact of UC is highly uncertain. The move to UC involves a number of changes for which it is hard to find comparable precedents (especially UK precedents)” — casting doubt on DWP’s use of academic evidence to substantiate its estimates — “It is not even possible to produce statistical margins of error for estimates of the employment impact, as the nature of the uncertainty is not conducive to standard statistical analysis…”

Sadly, it will be difficult even after the event to produce convincing estimates of the overall employment impact of UC. The early impact estimates that DWP have published – cited in the Minister’s letter of 12 March – apply only to a small group of claimants who are not affected by UC in the same way as most other claimants […]” and;

“We emphasise that the overall employment impact of UC will conceal very different effects for different groups in the population, with employment rates likely to rise for some and fall for others.”

The last point contradicts what DWP have previously told the Committee when asked about the impact on other groups:

“We remain committed to producing robust comparative analysis of the employment impacts of Universal Credit. As we informed the Committee we are planning to expand the analysis for single cases in the Live Service to couples and families in both services.

This analysis will estimate a labout market impact for these broader claimant groups. In this instance it is misleading to draw a distinction between two services. The underlying policy for both is the same so any comparative analysis will hold true for both systems”.

Lack of evidence

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The ongoing lack of evidence to back up the much-vaunted employment impact of Universal Credit was already extremely disappointing. But to have our specific queries about basis of this claim answered with airy, irrelevant and, it appears, plainly inaccurate assertions adds insult to injury.

The IFS’ letter shows that Old Mother Hubbard hasn’t got much in the cupboard, despite the bragging of the Department. This clumsy and ill-judged attempt to piggyback on one of the most trusted, unimpugnable authorities on public policy and finance would be farcical if it was not so deeply worrying.”

Call it what it is, Frank. It’s just more glib, ideologically driven lies

Image result for Universal credit criticism


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