DWP ‘hides impact of changes to ESA guidance that risked lives of thousands’

The government appears to be trying to hide information that could show the impact of major changes to “fitness for work” guidance that risked the lives of thousands of disabled benefit claimants.

It is the second time this month that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached the Freedom of Information Act in an apparent attempt to hide the impact of its welfare reforms on disabled people.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had refused to explain how its new universal credit system of working-age benefits would financially affect disabled people with high support needs.

But DWP has also been refusing to release any written documents that describe the impact of significant changes that were made to employment and support allowance (ESA) guidance in December 2015.

The changes, which did not need parliamentary approval, were made to the guidance that is given to benefits assessors.

The guidance in the work capability assessment handbook explains to assessors how they should translate ESA regulations 29 and 35, which concern whether decisions to find someone fit for work or able to carry out work-related activity would cause a substantial risk of harm.

The guidance was designed to prevent people self-harming and taking their own lives. The changes introduced in December 2015 mean that DWP is now far less likely to place a claimant with a mental health condition in the ESA support group because of the risk to their health if forced into work-related activity.

Previously, the handbook had included six indicators of “substantial risk”, which were marked “D” for “definitive” – including someone who was currently sectioned, who had active thoughts of suicide, or had had a documented episode of self-harm requiring medical attention in the last 12 months – to show that that person should be placed in the support group.

But the December 2015 edition of the guidance said only that such indicators “might” give rise to a substantial risk in “exceptional circumstances”.

The month after the new guidance was sent out, the proportion of claimants placed in the support group of ESA began to fall sharply, and it has since remained at a far lower level*.

The changes appeared to show that ministers had made a calculation that it was worth risking the loss of some lives so that they could cut benefits spending and force more disabled people into their discredited back-to-work programmes.

DNS put in a freedom of information request on 26 January after seeing an equality analysis sent by DWP to freelance journalist Chaminda Jayanetti.

In the equality analysis, sent to Jayanetti in November 2016, following a freedom of information request, DWP promises to “monitor and evaluate” the impact of the changes to the guidance.

The DNS request in January asked for any written reports that describe the impact of those changes, in the two years since they were introduced.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, DWP should have replied to the request within 20 working days, but it failed to respond for more than 30 working days.

A DWP spokeswoman told DNS this week: “We are monitoring the impact of the change to the guidance and are still working on our evaluation.”

She added: “The Information Commissioner’s Office’s compliance threshold is to answer at least 90 per cent [of freedom of information requests]on time, and in 2017 we answered 93 per cent on time.

“According to the last published figures, DWP was the second most transparent government department, meeting 63 per cent of requests in full.”

The following day, DWP’s strategy freedom of information team released a short response, claiming that the information requested “is not held by this Department as an evaluation has not been concluded”.

DNS has now asked for an internal review of this response, arguing that even if the evaluation is not yet complete, it is likely that some written reports will mention the impact of the change in guidance since it was introduced.

*For assessments completed in December 2015, 56 per cent of those applying for ESA were placed in the support group; the following month that fell to 49 per cent, and then to 34 per cent in February, and 33 per cent in March 2016. The latest figures, for September 2017, show 38 per cent were placed in the support group. See data tables, table 2a.



DWP wins legal case to block future benefit appeals

The Carmichaels took their case to the Supreme Court
The Carmichaels took their case to the Supreme Court

The government has won a legal case which could have major implications for future benefit appeals.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) used the case of Jayson and Charlotte Carmichael, who successfully challenged the bedroom tax at the Supreme Court, to prevent other people from relying on the Human Rights Act when appealing against benefits decisions at the first tier tribunal.

Speaking to Politics.co.uk at the time of the hearing last month, solicitors acting for the Carmichaels said a government victory would “severely curtail” the powers of the social security tribunal.

“The tribunal would no longer be able to address the injustice that is caused to a social welfare claimant by the application of regulations that breach their rights protected by the Human Rights Act,” Lucy Cadd of Leigh Day solicitors said. “It is another example of the government seeking to undermine disabled people and social welfare claimants in general.”

Today’s decision comes almost four years after the couple first started their battle against the bedroom tax when a judge at a first tier tribunal ruled that the policy was in breach of their human rights.

The DWP appealed that decision but after a number of further hearings the Carmichaels won their case at the Supreme Court.

Several months later, the DWP went back to court to argue that the first tier tribunal only had the power to identify that legislation is incompatible with the Human Rights Act – not to rule on a case on that basis.

“So many other people’s rights depended on the outcome of this case,” Jayson Carmichael said this morning.

“I am infuriated that the government has taken this action but we remain proud of our case and the great victory that it brought forward against the bedroom tax.”

The Carmichaels said they will take a few days to decide whether to take the case further.

“It’s been so stressful for us, we might decide that we’ve just had enough and that it’s time for somebody else to take up the fight,” Jayson Carmichael said.

The DWP has been contacted for a comment.

Work and Pensions Secretary accused of callous disregard over ‘rape clause’

Kezia Dugdale has criticised the Work and Pensions Secretary’s approach to the so called ‘rape clause’. Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has been accused of “callous disregard” after insisting the UK Government’s so-called rape clause “strikes the right balance”.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale wrote to Ms McVey urging her to review the “invasive and degrading” policy on her appointment to the role in Theresa May’s reshuffle earlier this year.

Under UK Government benefit reforms, families are limited to claiming child tax credits for their first two children. The controversial clause requires women to prove their third child was conceived through rape or during an abusive relationship to qualify for the benefit.

In her response Ms McVey said: “We believe that this approach strikes the right balance between ensuring claimants in these circumstances get the support they are entitled to in a manner that respects the sensitive nature of the disclosure they are required to make to a relevant professional to obtain the exception, whilst at the same time providing reassurance to the Government that the additional support is going to those for whom it is intended.”

‘Forcing a woman to choose between poverty or disclosing rape is inhumane’ Benefits axewoman McVey slammed for defending clause

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey will appear before a Holyrood committee next month (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Don’t ask her to care!
Ms Dugdale said the reply was “deeply disappointing, and shows a callous disregard for the impact of the rape clause”.

She said: “I wrote to the minister in the hope that she would put party politics aside and, as a woman, agree that this abhorrent clause needs to go.

“Instead, she has responded by claiming that is ‘strikes the right balance’. “I’m disgusted that she can think forcing women who conceive a child through rape to reveal their ordeal is ‘the right balance’.

“She should be thoroughly ashamed of defending one of the most abhorrent policies of a government in my adult lifetime. A Labour Government will end the vile rape clause.”

Ms McVey is due to appear before the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee next month. She will be questioned on problems with the roll out of Universal Credit as well as the devolution of welfare powers to Scotland.

Committee convener Clare Adamson MSP said: “This meeting comes at a vital time for social security in Scotland. “Not only is the Parliament about finalise the Social Security Bill but there are clearly on going issues around the roll out of Universal Credit which need resolved and resolved quickly. “That is why our committee is pleased that the Secretary of State will be appearing before us.”

A DWP spokesman said:  “This reform ensures people on benefits make the same choices as those supporting themselves solely through work. “But we have always been clear this will be delivered in the most effective, compassionate way, with the right safeguards in place.

“This exemption is crucial to protect women who are faced with this very difficult situation, and by using third-party professionals who already support vulnerable women, we can ensure it can be applied as sensitively as possible.”

Food Bank Use Set To Soar with Universal Credit

Reblogged from Ipswich Unemployed Action


Image result for Food banks supermarkets

Charity Replacing Rights.

Like many people I have mixed feelings about Food Banks.

If I had no money and I really needed to eat I would use them.

But I do not like the idea of charity help replacing welfare rights.

The involvement of supermarkets, like Asda, and the toffs’ shop Waitrose, as the hungry claimants’ new best friends.

Asda, The Trussell Trust and Fareshare launch £20 million partnership to help a million people out of food poverty.

Tesco, Food Collection

The Food Collection is part of our ongoing effort to encourage customers to donate long-life food to charity. The December 2016 collection contributed 3.4 million meals to people in need. Since we ran our first collection in 2012, we have collected over 46 million meals.

 You can’t thinking that the glow of satisfaction donors would be better directed at ending the system which makes people queue up and beg for some grub.
Be that as it may this looks like happening.

Food bank use ‘could rise after universal credit roll-out.

BBC Today.

The full roll out of universal credit could see a significant rise in people needing emergency food supplies in Wales, the Trussell Trust has warned.

Director Tony Graham said food banks in Wales were already preparing for more people needing help as the new benefits system is rolled out.

The new system replaces six benefits including housing benefit, unemployment benefits and tax credits.

The DWP said it will help to improve people’s lives.

But some claimants who are on universal credit claim long delays in receiving benefits or changes to the money they receive has left them in poverty.

Mr Graham said: “We have seen a 30% increase in food bank usage in areas of universal credit roll-out in England, so we would expect similar sorts of averages to happen here in Wales when universal credit is fully rolled out.”

The new system has been fully rolled out in Torfaen and Flintshire, and the rollout has begun in some other Welsh counties including Cardiff.

Wales’ first Trussell Trust food bank was set up at Festival Church in Ebbw Vale 10 years ago this week.

In its first year, it gave out 76 three-day emergency food supplies but the network has since grown to include 37 food banks and 110 distribution centres across Wales.

Last year, 95,190 three-day supplies were given out to families in crisis across Wales.

They summarise:

  • The Trussell Trust says the majority of people need emergency food because of changes or delays to benefit payments, but low wages and rising living costs means many working people also cannot manage
  • All food is donated by churches, supermarkets and local people
  • Increasingly, food banks are receiving donations of other items, including toiletries, washing powder and pet food
  • People in crisis are referred to a food bank by services including charities, social services and GPs
  • Supplies can be tailored to individual circumstances, including giving kettle bags – with items such as Pot Noodles – to people who do not have access to cooking facilities other than a kettle.


Trussell Trust. 

Putting food on the table: the human right to eat in the fifth richest country in the world

On World Social Justice Day, Elliot Marcus, law graduate and human rights advocate, explains why the Government must uphold the right to food

Call for urgent cut to six-week Universal Credit wait as foodbank demand soars across the UK.

All the key ‘sufficiency’ duties for disabled children and young people

reblogged from RIGHTSINREALITY

When looking a public bodies’ proposals to cut funding, one of the key legal questions which arises is whether there is a ‘sufficiency’ duty in the relevant area. I thought it might be helpful if I set out all the key sufficiency duties for disabled children and young people in one place, so here goes:

  1. Education and care provision for disabled children and young people – section 27 of the Children and Families Act 2004 states that as well as keeping education and care provision under review, local authorities must ‘consider the extent to which the provision…is sufficient to meet the educational needs, training needs and social care needs of the children and young people concerned’. In considering this local authorities have to consult with (amongst others) children, young people and parents. Section 27 is therefore likely to be important in any case involving cuts to education or care services for children and young people.
  2. Adult social care services – section 5 of the Care Act 2014 is often described as the ‘market shaping’ duty on local authorities. However as well as generally promoting an effective market in services, every local authority must ‘also have regard to the need to ensure that sufficient services are available for meeting the needs for care and support of adults in its area and the needs for support of carers in its area.’
  3. Short breaks – regulation 4 of the Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011 requires local authorities to provide ‘so far as is reasonably practicable, a range of services which is sufficient to assist carers to continue to provide care or to do so more effectively.’ This is a key duty in relation to the provision of short breaks.
  4. Childcare – section 6 of the Childcare Act 2006 mandates that local authorities must provide ‘secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the provision of childcare (whether or not by them) is sufficient to meet the requirements of parents in their area who require childcare in order to enable them to [work or study]’. This requirement extends up to 18 in relation to childcare for disabled children.
  5. Children’s Centres – section 5A of the Childcare Act 2006 states that childcare arrangements must ‘must, so far as is reasonably practicable, include arrangements for sufficient provision of children’s centres to meet local need.’ These have to be physical centres, as per the definition in sub-section 4. This is why it would be very unlikely to be lawful for a local authority to decide to close all its children’s centres.

It is obvious that all of these duties are subject to important qualifications. The first two duties listed above are ‘regard’ duties, which require local authorities to ‘think about’ the need for sufficiency rather than actually achieve sufficiency. The final three duties are focused more on outcomes, but are qualified by reference to reasonable practicability. This means that local authorities can take account of their own resources when deciding what level of provision to make. However in my view it is clear that when contemplating cuts in these areas local authorities must understand the level of demand for a particular service and assess the extent to which the remaining service will be sufficient to meet local needs if the cut is to be made lawfully. Very often in my experience this fundamental requirement of lawful decision making is not met. Those who have concerns about cuts in their area which may breach one or more of these sufficiency duties will need to get advice ASAP.

No doubt there are other important sufficiency duties for disabled children and young people than those listed above – suggestions for other duties to include in this post are welcome using the comments below.

Also see

New Tribunal powers for health and social care – key points from the guidance

Universal Credit and the legacy of JSA sanctions


Researcher Evan Williams shows how the rise of sanctioning in UK social security has transferred to the new system

Much of the recent mediathink tank and parliamentary debate surrounding the controversial rollout of Universal Credit (UC) has focused on the harmful six week wait for UC claimants to receive support. One core feature of UC that has been largely overlooked in this discussion, however, is the disciplinary role of sanctionsand the various adverse impacts that they have on individuals. This short piece provides some context to the current UC sanctions regime by focusing on sanctioning policy for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants – one of the six existing means-tested benefits that UC replaces – under the previous Coalition Government (2010-2015).

There are well known issues with how the DWP records and reports sanctions-related statistics. Perhaps the most reliable figure comes from a report on benefit sanctions by the National Audit Office (NAO), which found that nearly a quarter (24%) of JSA claimants between 2010 and 2015 received at least one sanction. Of this group, nearly three-fifths (58%) received one sanction, a fifth (20%) received two sanctions and just over a fifth (22%) received three or more sanctions. Figure 1 charts the monthly rate of JSA sanctions as a proportion of JSA claimants between 2010 and 2015.[1]

Figure 1: monthly rate of JSA sanctions (per cent of JSA claimants), 2010-2015

 Source: author’s calculations using DWP Stat-Xplore data

As Figure 1 makes clear, there was an immediate and marked rise in the sanctioning rate following the onset of the Coalition Government in 2010. In April 2011, the system of targets through internal benchmarks for sanctions referrals was removed, which may partly explain the observed fall in the sanctions rate from April to December of that year. June 2011 marked the onset of the Work Programme, which the NAO report identifies as a key driver behind the increase in sanctions from the beginning of 2012 to its peak in October 2013. At that point, the monthly sanctions rate was about 7.5% – over twice the rate of 3.1% in May 2010. Since October 2013, the sanctions rate has gradually returned to its pre-Coalition level, partly explained by falling numbers of people on the Work Programme.

Whilst the fall in the sanctions rate from its height is to be welcomed, it is important to consider this change within the wider context of an increasingly harsh and punitive sanctioning policy. First, it took two years from its peak for the sanctions rate to fall back to its pre-Coalition level, meaning that the entire Coalition period is characterised by an abnormally high imposition of benefit sanctions. Second, the upheld rate – the proportion of referrals that result in sanctions – increased for the three main reasons for JSA sanction referrals throughout the period (not actively seeking work; missing an appointment; and not participating in the Work Programme) and has not since declined. Third, the JSA sanctions rate displayed in Figure 1 does not include sanctions associated with unemployed claimants of Universal Credit (UC). UC began with a pathfinder phase from April 2013 followed by a national rollout from February 2015. This means that the sanctions rate in Figure 1 underestimates the true level of sanctions from April 2013; currently available statistics show that the UC sanctions rate is very high.

Importantly, furthermore, the Coalition massively increased the severity of sanctions through the Welfare Reform Act 2012. Since October 2012, JSA claimants can be sanctioned their full benefit income for a minimum of four weeks up to 156 weeks (three years), depending on the type and number of so-called ‘transgressions’ incurred. Whatever the overall rate of sanctions, therefore, the individual experience of a sanction was made significantly worse by the Coalition’s welfare ‘reforms’. In terms of JSA withdrawal alone, a four week sanction amounts to the loss of over £230 for somebody aged 18-24 and over £290 for somebody aged 25 and over.

The increased frequency and length of sanctions under the Coalition amounts to what has been described as a “secret penal system”; in 2013, there were more sanctions imposed – with a higher penalty scale – than court fines. One important legacy of this period is that the system of escalating sanctions is a core part of UC, whilst several design features – relating, for example, to changes to hardship payments – mean that the UC sanctions regime is in fact much harsher than the already punitive JSA system that it replaces. An increasing body of evidence links sanctioning policy to a range of adverse impacts, including: serious financial hardship; homelessness; and negative physical and mental health effects. It is now beyond high time for a major re-assessment of sanctioning policy and the way that the social security system treats those it purports to support.

Evan Williams is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow

[1] The DWP does not publish statistics on the numbers of benefit sanctions referrals – see Dr David Webster’s quarterly briefingsfor estimates. Figure 1 uses the monthly adverse sanctions rate: decisions to apply a sanction for each month after reviews, reconsiderations and appeals.