Two-thirds of disabled Scots classed as ‘fit for work’ by DWP are genuinely ill

Labour renewed calls to scrap the system after it emerged 63 per cent of fit for work decisions in Scotland which are appealed are subsequently overturned.

William with the letter with DWP
William with the letter with DWP

Nearly two-thirds of disabled Scots who appeal a UK Government decision that they are “fit to work” are later found to actually be ill, figures show.

Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions expose the failures of the Work Capability Assessment. Labour last night renewed calls to scrap the system after it emerged 63 per cent of fit for work decisions in Scotland which are appealed are subsequently overturned.

The latest figures are based on a Scottish breakdown of Employment Support Allowance assessments originally carried out in June last year.

Labour are planning to table amendments to the Scottish Government’s Social Security Bill to deliver a ban.

Social security spokesman Mark Griffin said: “These figures show that work capability assessments just aren’t working. “That’s what happens when our social security system chases profits before the well-being of people. “It’s time to move beyond the warm words on social security and deliver a better system.”

But a [LYING] DWP spokesman said: “Only a small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal — just four per cent of ESA work capability assessments nationally [LIES]

“In the vast majority of successful appeals, decisions are overturned because the claimant provides new evidence.” Correction it’s because the claimant doesn’t give up and appeals

The revelations came after a study found the fit-to-work tests are causing permanent damage to some claimants’ mental health.

The research, at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities, said the experience of WCAs “for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from”.

It also established, through dozens of in-depth interviews with people who had been through the tests, that “in the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide”.health charities said the interviews’ contents “reflect what we hear from people every day”.

The Work Capability Assessment was introduced in 2008 under a UK Labour Government. It is contracted out to private company Maximus, having previously been run by Atos.

SOURCE

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Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people

66864_464287263640807_1896397853_n

The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

The message is starting to get through about universal credit. The Tories’ flagship benefit ‘reform’ – despite a cost of £15 billion and rising – simply doesn’t work. Chronic understaffing and broken computer systems only exacerbate the usual woes of any attempt to roll out a big new government policy.

But the disastrous roll-out of universal credit is not simply a crisis of implementation. Even if everything had gone according to plan, claimaints would still be facing misery, hunger and eviction. Because this is, quite simply, what the scheme is designed to do: to re-draw the entire welfare benefits system in order to change unemployed people’s behaviour in ways amenable to the Tory party, using the need to ‘simplify’ the system as a smokescreen for attempts to discipline claimants.

The scheme is five years behind its own schedule, and the policy was over a decade in the making – making an arduous journey from think-tank ‘blue-sky thinking’ to government white paper to trial roll-outs, before hitting today’s crunch point. Back before Brexit was even a twinkle in Boris Johnson’s eye, before Nick Clegg stood in that rose garden with David Cameron, even before Cameron hugged either a husky or a hoodie, the policy was formed by the Conservative Party in opposition at the tail end of the Blair and Brown years.

We could pick two possible kick-off dates. The first is when Iain Duncan Smith, as Tory leader, visited Glasgow’s Easterhouse estate in 2002. He came, he saw, he blubbered – and he had the so-called ‘Easterhouse epiphany’, which convinced him that the Conservative Party needed to come up with its own, right-wing solutions to ‘solve’ poverty, instead of leaving the issue to Labour. This is the oft-told origin story of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ in Britain, a baton Cameron picked up and ran with after taking over the party in 2005.

The second is in 2004, a year after being ousted as Tory leader, when Duncan Smith founded a think tank he named the Centre for Social Justice. Shortly after its formation, the think tank was brought into the Conservative Party’s policy review process and worked for several years on trying to explain ‘the causes of poverty’ from an ideologically conservative point of view. From then until the Tories took office in 2010, its policies laid much of the groundwork for Cameron’s policies in government – and none more so than universal credit.

Confusion upon confusion

Universal credit rolls together six different benefits into one payment: jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, tax credits, child tax credit, income support, and employment and support allowance (itself a roll-up of different disability benefits). Instead of a range of confusing forms and adjustments, the theory goes, you have a ‘simplified’ one-stop shop for your claim.

The big idea is that, instead of some benefits needing to account for other benefits in calculating your overall income, everything becomes a ‘credit’, dynamically adjusting to your circumstances. You are no longer ‘in work’ or ‘out of work’, but your income from work is assessed each month, with benefits ‘tapering off’ depending on how much it was. The result is anything but simple. Try to follow this government example:

‘You have a child and get money for housing costs in your Universal Credit payment. You’re working and earn £500 during your assessment period.

Your work allowance is £192. This means you can earn £192 without any money being deducted.

For every £1 of the remaining £308 you get, 63p is taken from your Universal Credit payment. So £308 x £0.63 = £194.04.

This means you earn £500 and £194.04 is deducted from your Universal Credit.’

Notice that this calculation has only worked out a deduction, not what your universal credit payment would be to begin with – which is a whole other world of confusion, especially once housing costs are included. Universal credit inherits all the strange rules from each of the benefits it encompasses, including whether you are under or over the age of 25, how many children you have, when they were born, how many bedrooms you have, and so on. Both the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, for example, remain active as part of universal credit.

Rolling the benefits together also allows an expansion of the sanctions regime, for those who violate some minor detail of the ‘claimant commitment’ written for them by their ‘work coach’. And the huge complexity and individual calculations involved in the formula makes it far easier for the government to gradually cut payouts – as it already plans to do in the next few years – without either claimants or the media being able to figure out exactly what is going on.

The scheme’s rollout for new claimants is now accelerating, being introduced at 50 new Jobcentres every month. People currently claiming one of the ‘legacy benefits’ that are now part of universal credit will be gradually moved over between now and 2021. Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that around 2.5 million low-income households will lose £1,000 a year by the time the change-over is finished, with some losing as much as £2,800.

Poverty and ‘welfare dependency’

‘The trouble with nets – even safety nets – is that people get tangled up in them.’
Breakdown Britain

The roots of this problem stretch far back into the annals of Tory policy thinking. The Centre for Social Justice’s initial work focused on diagnosing the problem: identifying what it thought were the causes of poverty. Its conclusions are set out in its multi-part 2006 report Breakdown Britain. The report identifies five ‘pathways to poverty’: family breakdown, educational failure, worklessness and economic dependence, addictions, and indebtedness. Each is seen as interrelated – a potential cause of the others. In Iain Duncan Smith’s introduction, he particularly takes aim at the family breakdown for which the report is named. He claims there is a particular problem of what he calls ‘dadlessness’, supposedly leading to a life of crime. ‘In the absence of a structured and balanced family life, the street gang becomes an alternative “family”,’ Duncan Smith writes.

Much of the report is just a think-tankified version of conservative ‘family values’ ideology. ‘At the heart of stable families and communities lies marriage,’ says the report’s conclusion. ‘For too long this issue has been disparaged and ignored and its erosion has had a detrimental effect on us all.’ The decline in marriage since the 1970s is framed as a reduction in ‘family stability’, which creates ‘damaged’ individuals. Lone parenthood is blamed for everything from crime to even the housing crisis (because two-parent families wouldn’t need as many houses, see).

At heart, this is little more than window dressing on a typically Victorian attitude which casts poverty as a personal moral failing. If you are poor, it must somehow be your fault. This thinking underpins the entire report, including the sections on ‘worklessness’ which eventually evolved into universal credit. It talks about ‘welfare dependency’ not simply as an outcome of low wages or unemployment, but as a vice driven by both economic and social factors. The solution to this vice? A good dash of ‘hard work’, bringing with it ‘self-improvement and personal responsibility’ and protection against the other ‘pathways’. Conversely, being out of work for too long can cause poverty ‘that persists across the generations’.

The evidence offered for all this is paper thin, resting heavily on anecdote and opinion polling, and vigorous attempts to mistake the effects of poverty for its causes. Our think-tank friends never consider that perhaps struggling in school or alcohol addiction are more outcomes of poverty than its source.

In their model, poor people don’t need money, they need the reverse of the ‘pathways to poverty’: that is, they need forced work, marriage, school discipline, addiction treatment and, in the most Tory solution possible to debt problems, more ‘competition in the home credit market’. Overall, poverty is seen as the product of personal behaviour that needs to be changed, whether through incentive or punishment.

Work at all costs

‘The more we struggle to end poverty through the provision of benefits, the more we entrench it.’
– Dynamic Benefits

Starting from this ideological framework, the Centre for Social Justice moved on to design an ambitious scheme it called ‘universal credits’, in its 2009 report Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works. Having argued that poverty is caused by a set of behavioural problems, universal credit sets out to change the claimant’s behaviour. Incidentally, members of Dynamic Benefits’ working group included Nicholas Boys Smith, then ‘wealth director’ in the international private banking division of Lloyds Banking Group, James Greenbury, ‘who has 20 years experience running private equity-backed businesses’, and Sara McKee, formerly of scandal-hit workfare company A4e.

The existing benefits system, it claims, penalises ‘positive behaviour such as couple formation, saving money and home ownership’. In contrast, their proposed ‘dynamic model’ – imported from consumer behaviour modelling in the private sector – allows policy-makers to tweak the system like scientists changing around a rats’ maze, and monitor the behavioural effects:

‘The Dynamic Benefits Model allows us to understand how the welfare system “looks” or “feels” to the claimant and – crucially – how they are likely to alter their behaviour in response to changes in the system.’

As Iain Duncan Smith puts it, ‘At the heart of these solutions is recognition that the nature of the life you lead and the choices you make have a significant bearing on whether you live in poverty.’ Since poverty is a question of life choices, the report says, universal credit must work to change behaviour: ‘We must continually encourage the desire for a job; and we must also clearly determine that a life on benefits, no matter what their level, should not be a sensible choice for those able to work.’

The report is clear about what choices it wants to get people to make. It examines welfare approaches that attempt to ‘maximise happiness’ by increasing leisure time, but then dismisses them as always discouraging earned income, ‘because the time taken to earn that income eats into the individual’s leisure’. Increasing the personal welfare of the low paid ‘tends to accept and indeed induce a world of greater worklessness’, and so happiness cannot be the objective.

Instead, ‘the number of households in work is the most important factor’: the aim is to incentivise work at all costs, whatever the work might be, and – crucially – even if doing so costs the state far more than paying benefits to the equivalent level. Getting more people into work isn’t about the money, but about warding off the ‘social breakdown’ that they assert is the root cause of poverty.

The Centre for Social Justice’s work in this period was imported almost wholesale as government policy from 2010, as Catherine Haddon’s Institute for Government study Making policy in opposition: the development of Universal Credit 2005-2010 makes clear. After surprise appointment of Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary in 2010, ‘copies of Dynamic Benefitswere in great demand as Duncan Smith … entered the department’.

Though it was packaged in with George Osborne’s austerity reforms, universal credit was not part of a programme of cuts. In fact, the scheme accounted for a big chunk of new spending: ‘For Duncan Smith it was at the core of why he had come back into government, so the budget to undertake Universal Credit needed to be protected…  The Treasury provided the cash to fund the project.’

How the other half doesn’t live

Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne and David Cameron have all now departed government, but the monster they unleashed on public policy still shambles on. For people who sought to change their behaviour, the architects of universal credit apparently had little idea how unemployed people and workers on low incomes live their lives.

Media reporting has focused on the need to wait six weeks (42 days) before receiving a universal credit payment, but less often explained is why the scheme was designed in such an odd way. The payment is intended to replace a monthly salary payment, and the delay is because it is paid ‘in arrears’ instead of in advance, so the ‘credit’ amount can be adjusted based on any income you had in the previous month.

Citizens Advice points out that low-paid workers are more likely than others to be paid weekly, not monthly. Yet weekly pay periods utterly break universal credit’s monthly ‘assessment periods’, as weeks and months don’t line up neatly in the calendar. As the government’s own guidance says, being paid weekly means that ‘four times a year, you’ll get 5 sets of wages in one assessment period’ – aka a month – and that ‘this means your earnings might be too high’ to qualify in those periods… and if that happens, you might have to re-apply from scratch!

To make matters worse, most existing benefit payments are made fortnightly, and claimants have got used to budgeting around this. The government’s universal credit whitepaper considers problems that might be caused by monthly payments, but says paying monthly is part of a focus ‘on encouraging personal responsibility’. (You get the feeling that its authors have never lived constantly scraping at the bottom of their overdrafts.) It reality, this leaves people building up rent arrears, unable to pay bills and turning to food banks – or loan sharks.

The government is also determined that universal credit will require you to set up an online account and fill in an internet job search ‘journal’ before receiving any money. Even though one in ten UK households do not have internet access, it’s now the only way to get the benefits you are entitled to. Universal credit was the only benefit claim line with a paid-for phone number, the DWP said, because it is intended as an internet-only system: ‘the expectation is that claims are made online’. The charge was not there to make money, but to try to stop most claimants calling them at all. It was just another part of the dynamic model: tweaking the system’s rules to change your behaviour.

Universal credit is fundamentally a scheme designed by people who do not understand how benefit claimants live – but know how they want to force them to live. While campaigning victories on details can soften the blow somewhat, there is no set of tweaks that can ‘fix’ a scheme that serves no purpose apart from making poor people dance to the Tory tune.

SOURCE

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people

The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

uc-benefits-sign-post

The message is starting to get through about universal credit. The Tories’ flagship benefit ‘reform’ – despite a cost of £15 billion and rising – simply doesn’t work. Chronic understaffing and broken computer systems only exacerbate the usual woes of any attempt to roll out a big new government policy.

But the disastrous roll-out of universal credit is not simply a crisis of implementation. Even if everything had gone according to plan, claimaints would still be facing misery, hunger and eviction. Because this is, quite simply, what the scheme is designed to do: to re-draw the entire welfare benefits system in order to change unemployed people’s behaviour in ways amenable to the Tory party, using the need to ‘simplify’ the system as a smokescreen for attempts to discipline claimants.

The scheme is five years behind its own schedule, and the policy was over a decade in the making – making an arduous journey from think-tank ‘blue-sky thinking’ to government white paper to trial roll-outs, before hitting today’s crunch point. Back before Brexit was even a twinkle in Boris Johnson’s eye, before Nick Clegg stood in that rose garden with David Cameron, even before Cameron hugged either a husky or a hoodie, the policy was formed by the Conservative Party in opposition at the tail end of the Blair and Brown years.

We could pick two possible kick-off dates. The first is when Iain Duncan Smith, as Tory leader, visited Glasgow’s Easterhouse estate in 2002. He came, he saw, he blubbered – and he had the so-called ‘Easterhouse epiphany’, which convinced him that the Conservative Party needed to come up with its own, right-wing solutions to ‘solve’ poverty, instead of leaving the issue to Labour. This is the oft-told origin story of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ in Britain, a baton Cameron picked up and ran with after taking over the party in 2005.

The second is in 2004, a year after being ousted as Tory leader, when Duncan Smith founded a think tank he named the Centre for Social Justice. Shortly after its formation, the think tank was brought into the Conservative Party’s policy review process and worked for several years on trying to explain ‘the causes of poverty’ from an ideologically conservative point of view. From then until the Tories took office in 2010, its policies laid much of the groundwork for Cameron’s policies in government – and none more so than universal credit.

Confusion upon confusion

Universal credit rolls together six different benefits into one payment: jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit, tax credits, child tax credit, income support, and employment and support allowance (itself a roll-up of different disability benefits). Instead of a range of confusing forms and adjustments, the theory goes, you have a ‘simplified’ one-stop shop for your claim.

The big idea is that, instead of some benefits needing to account for other benefits in calculating your overall income, everything becomes a ‘credit’, dynamically adjusting to your circumstances. You are no longer ‘in work’ or ‘out of work’, but your income from work is assessed each month, with benefits ‘tapering off’ depending on how much it was. The result is anything but simple. Try to follow this government example:

‘You have a child and get money for housing costs in your Universal Credit payment. You’re working and earn £500 during your assessment period.

Your work allowance is £192. This means you can earn £192 without any money being deducted.

For every £1 of the remaining £308 you get, 63p is taken from your Universal Credit payment. So £308 x £0.63 = £194.04.

This means you earn £500 and £194.04 is deducted from your Universal Credit.’

Notice that this calculation has only worked out a deduction, not what your universal credit payment would be to begin with – which is a whole other world of confusion, especially once housing costs are included. Universal credit inherits all the strange rules from each of the benefits it encompasses, including whether you are under or over the age of 25, how many children you have, when they were born, how many bedrooms you have, and so on. Both the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, for example, remain active as part of universal credit.

Rolling the benefits together also allows an expansion of the sanctions regime, for those who violate some minor detail of the ‘claimant commitment’ written for them by their ‘work coach’. And the huge complexity and individual calculations involved in the formula makes it far easier for the government to gradually cut payouts – as it already plans to do in the next few years – without either claimants or the media being able to figure out exactly what is going on.

The scheme’s rollout for new claimants is now accelerating, being introduced at 50 new Jobcentres every month. People currently claiming one of the ‘legacy benefits’ that are now part of universal credit will be gradually moved over between now and 2021. Figures from the Resolution Foundation show that around 2.5 million low-income households will lose £1,000 a year by the time the change-over is finished, with some losing as much as £2,800.

Poverty and ‘welfare dependency’

‘The trouble with nets – even safety nets – is that people get tangled up in them.’
Breakdown Britain

The roots of this problem stretch far back into the annals of Tory policy thinking. The Centre for Social Justice’s initial work focused on diagnosing the problem: identifying what it thought were the causes of poverty. Its conclusions are set out in its multi-part 2006 report Breakdown Britain. The report identifies five ‘pathways to poverty’: family breakdown, educational failure, worklessness and economic dependence, addictions, and indebtedness. Each is seen as interrelated – a potential cause of the others. In Iain Duncan Smith’s introduction, he particularly takes aim at the family breakdown for which the report is named. He claims there is a particular problem of what he calls ‘dadlessness’, supposedly leading to a life of crime. ‘In the absence of a structured and balanced family life, the street gang becomes an alternative “family”,’ Duncan Smith writes.

Much of the report is just a think-tankified version of conservative ‘family values’ ideology. ‘At the heart of stable families and communities lies marriage,’ says the report’s conclusion. ‘For too long this issue has been disparaged and ignored and its erosion has had a detrimental effect on us all.’ The decline in marriage since the 1970s is framed as a reduction in ‘family stability’, which creates ‘damaged’ individuals. Lone parenthood is blamed for everything from crime to even the housing crisis (because two-parent families wouldn’t need as many houses, see).

At heart, this is little more than window dressing on a typically Victorian attitude which casts poverty as a personal moral failing. If you are poor, it must somehow be your fault. This thinking underpins the entire report, including the sections on ‘worklessness’ which eventually evolved into universal credit. It talks about ‘welfare dependency’ not simply as an outcome of low wages or unemployment, but as a vice driven by both economic and social factors. The solution to this vice? A good dash of ‘hard work’, bringing with it ‘self-improvement and personal responsibility’ and protection against the other ‘pathways’. Conversely, being out of work for too long can cause poverty ‘that persists across the generations’.

The evidence offered for all this is paper thin, resting heavily on anecdote and opinion polling, and vigorous attempts to mistake the effects of poverty for its causes. Our think-tank friends never consider that perhaps struggling in school or alcohol addiction are more outcomes of poverty than its source.

In their model, poor people don’t need money, they need the reverse of the ‘pathways to poverty’: that is, they need forced work, marriage, school discipline, addiction treatment and, in the most Tory solution possible to debt problems, more ‘competition in the home credit market’. Overall, poverty is seen as the product of personal behaviour that needs to be changed, whether through incentive or punishment.

Work at all costs

‘The more we struggle to end poverty through the provision of benefits, the more we entrench it.’
– Dynamic Benefits

Starting from this ideological framework, the Centre for Social Justice moved on to design an ambitious scheme it called ‘universal credits’, in its 2009 report Dynamic Benefits: Towards Welfare That Works. Having argued that poverty is caused by a set of behavioural problems, universal credit sets out to change the claimant’s behaviour. Incidentally, members of Dynamic Benefits’ working group included Nicholas Boys Smith, then ‘wealth director’ in the international private banking division of Lloyds Banking Group, James Greenbury, ‘who has 20 years experience running private equity-backed businesses’, and Sara McKee, formerly of scandal-hit workfare company A4e.

The existing benefits system, it claims, penalises ‘positive behaviour such as couple formation, saving money and home ownership’. In contrast, their proposed ‘dynamic model’ – imported from consumer behaviour modelling in the private sector – allows policy-makers to tweak the system like scientists changing around a rats’ maze, and monitor the behavioural effects:

‘The Dynamic Benefits Model allows us to understand how the welfare system “looks” or “feels” to the claimant and – crucially – how they are likely to alter their behaviour in response to changes in the system.’

As Iain Duncan Smith puts it, ‘At the heart of these solutions is recognition that the nature of the life you lead and the choices you make have a significant bearing on whether you live in poverty.’ Since poverty is a question of life choices, the report says, universal credit must work to change behaviour: ‘We must continually encourage the desire for a job; and we must also clearly determine that a life on benefits, no matter what their level, should not be a sensible choice for those able to work.’

The report is clear about what choices it wants to get people to make. It examines welfare approaches that attempt to ‘maximise happiness’ by increasing leisure time, but then dismisses them as always discouraging earned income, ‘because the time taken to earn that income eats into the individual’s leisure’. Increasing the personal welfare of the low paid ‘tends to accept and indeed induce a world of greater worklessness’, and so happiness cannot be the objective.

Instead, ‘the number of households in work is the most important factor’: the aim is to incentivise work at all costs, whatever the work might be, and – crucially – even if doing so costs the state far more than paying benefits to the equivalent level. Getting more people into work isn’t about the money, but about warding off the ‘social breakdown’ that they assert is the root cause of poverty.

The Centre for Social Justice’s work in this period was imported almost wholesale as government policy from 2010, as Catherine Haddon’s Institute for Government study Making policy in opposition: the development of Universal Credit 2005-2010 makes clear. After surprise appointment of Iain Duncan Smith as work and pensions secretary in 2010, ‘copies of Dynamic Benefits were in great demand as Duncan Smith … entered the department’.

Though it was packaged in with George Osborne’s austerity reforms, universal credit was not part of a programme of cuts. In fact, the scheme accounted for a big chunk of new spending: ‘For Duncan Smith it was at the core of why he had come back into government, so the budget to undertake Universal Credit needed to be protected…  The Treasury provided the cash to fund the project.’

How the other half doesn’t live

Iain Duncan Smith, George Osborne and David Cameron have all now departed government, but the monster they unleashed on public policy still shambles on. For people who sought to change their behaviour, the architects of universal credit apparently had little idea how unemployed people and workers on low incomes live their lives.

Media reporting has focused on the need to wait six weeks (42 days) before receiving a universal credit payment, but less often explained is why the scheme was designed in such an odd way. The payment is intended to replace a monthly salary payment, and the delay is because it is paid ‘in arrears’ instead of in advance, so the ‘credit’ amount can be adjusted based on any income you had in the previous month.

Citizens Advice points out that low-paid workers are more likely than others to be paid weekly, not monthly. Yet weekly pay periods utterly break universal credit’s monthly ‘assessment periods’, as weeks and months don’t line up neatly in the calendar. As the government’s own guidance says, being paid weekly means that ‘four times a year, you’ll get 5 sets of wages in one assessment period’ – aka a month – and that ‘this means your earnings might be too high’ to qualify in those periods… and if that happens, you might have to re-apply from scratch!

To make matters worse, most existing benefit payments are made fortnightly, and claimants have got used to budgeting around this. The government’s universal credit whitepaper considers problems that might be caused by monthly payments, but says paying monthly is part of a focus ‘on encouraging personal responsibility’. (You get the feeling that its authors have never lived constantly scraping at the bottom of their overdrafts.) It reality, this leaves people building up rent arrears, unable to pay bills and turning to food banks – or loan sharks.

The government is also determined that universal credit will require you to set up an online account and fill in an internet job search ‘journal’ before receiving any money. Even though one in ten UK households do not have internet access, it’s now the only way to get the benefits you are entitled to. Universal credit was the only benefit claim line with a paid-for phone number, the DWP said, because it is intended as an internet-only system: ‘the expectation is that claims are made online’. The charge was not there to make money, but to try to stop most claimants calling them at all. It was just another part of the dynamic model: tweaking the system’s rules to change your behaviour.

Universal credit is fundamentally a scheme designed by people who do not understand how benefit claimants live – but know how they want to force them to live. While campaigning victories on details can soften the blow somewhat, there is no set of tweaks that can ‘fix’ a scheme that serves no purpose apart from making poor people dance to the Tory tune.

SOURCE

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EXCLUSIVE: People on Universal Credit are being refused prescriptions and dental care

GPs and dental practices can’t tell who is eligible for free treatment under Universal Credit – meaning some claimants are going without

People are being denied prescriptions and dental care because practices do not know whether Universal Credit claimants are eligible for free treatment, according to evidence seen by Left Foot Forward.  

Under the current welfare regime, those on certain benefits – such as Jobseekers’ Allowance – receive free NHS prescriptions and dental treatment, Healthy Start vouchers and other government-funded support.

But the Conservatives’ Universal Credit scheme wraps several benefits into one. While the principle has broad cross-party support, dental practices and GPs are now unsure who is eligible to receive free treatment.

Those on working tax credits, for example, are not eligible for free treatment – but practices have no information on whether UC claimants are receiving the tax credits element of UC, in which case they’re ineligible, or the JSA element.

The confusion is leaving people already on the margins either having to fork out for dental care and prescriptions themselves – leaving them out of pocket – or going without treatment altogether, according to reports from the single parents charity Gingerbread and seen by Left Foot Forward.

The problem stems from the fact that the administration system hasn’t caught up. There is no way on NHS forms to make it clear how to declare that individuals are on UC – whereas for existing benefits, such as income support or JSA, there are specific boxes to confirm eligibility.

One single mum in touch with Gingerbread has incurred fines because of the changes in health assistance under UC. She has received a letter from the NHS informing her that she owes money for dental treatment and a prescription, explaining that they have fined her as a result.

She says she was never fully informed how UC would affect her NHS support – and is currently unable to pick up a prescription given to her GP because she can’t afford to pay. She says she will only be able to get this essential prescription when she receives her next payment.

Daisy Srblin, Policy Officer at Gingerbread, told Left Foot Forward:

“The arbitrary waits built into the system clearly cause significant problems when a parent transitions onto UC. But the challenges people face don’t end there – day-to-day financial difficulties are made worse by unexpected costs such as dental fees and prescriptions.

“The official advice is pay first and claim later – but for many this is a cost they simply can’t afford. The aim has been a simplified benefits system; the reality is that the NHS and DWP systems (like so many other government departments) don’t work together, creating confusion, complexity and often additional costs for single parents.

“We want to see the administrative challenges resolved, and for Universal Credit claimants to be supported as they are entitled to be so that they are not pushed further into debt.”

Another single mum Gingerbread has spoken to has received a letter notifying her of prescription charges. The NHS informed her that she needs to provide them with a full breakdown of her UC award so they can assess her eligibility for support.

However, her Job Centre are telling her that the information they have provided her to date is enough – despite it being different to the documents requested by the NHS. With no consistent guidance and no money to pay the charges herself, she doesn’t know how to resolve the issue.

Responding to the findings, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable told Left Foot Forward:

“We support the principle of Universal Credit, which is to help the disadvantaged into work. But the roll-out of Universal Credit so far under the Conservatives has been utter chaos.

“People are having to sacrifice their health and well-being because of mere technical problems. This is a shambles and the government must pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, before it is too late.”

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said:

“Universal Credit is supposed to be a safety net. Instead it is a noose around the necks of those who need support. It has left people in debt after being unfairly fined or forced to pay for prescriptions which should be free. It is denying access to vital medication and treatment.

“The evidence is clear that the system simply isn’t fit for purpose. Fundamental flaws in Universal Credit, which are at best overlooked and at worst bring wilfully ignored by the Government, are creating a barrier between people and the vital healthcare they need. It is unacceptable that the Government is pressing ahead with the roll-out of this damaging system.”

The findings follow controversy in recent weeks over the six-week wait to receive the benefit.

On Wednesday the government agreed to make the phone lines for Universal Credit free, after coming under pressure from the Labour Party.

These latest revelations add fresh pressure on the Conservatives to rethink the scheme, which has been beset with problems.

SOURCE

Grenfell Tower fire: Labour accuses Government of breaking promises to hundreds of survivors still living in hotels

grenfell

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid rebuffs Shadow Housing Minister’s questions as ‘political point-scoring’

Labour has accused the Government of breaking a series of promises to the hundreds of Grenfell Tower survivors still living in hotel accommodation.

Shadow housing minister John Healey criticised the Government’s rehousing efforts and nationwide fire safety tests, four months on from the tragedy that killed at least 80 people.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Healey said: “Can [Communities Secretary Sajid Javid] confirm that 152 Grenfell households are still in hotels, despite the Prime Minister telling this House on 17 July ‘I have fixed a deadline of three weeks for everybody affected to be found a new home’?”

Mr Javid accused Mr Healey of “political point-scoring”, saying just 14 families had accepted permanent accommodation offers due to people being treated as “survivors” rather than “statistics”.

“These people, the victims of what is easily one of the most terrible tragedies ever to have taken place in our country, they are people, they are not statistics,” he said. “We must work with them and listen to what their needs are.”

He also revealed 58 households of 202 were now living in temporary or permanent accommodation, but did not confirm the number that remained in hotel accommodation.

Mr Healey also asked Mr Javid to confirm the Government had tested cladding on fewer than 300 high-rise blocks, despite the Prime Minister saying in June “we can test over 100 buildings a day”.

Theresa May says no Government cash for sprinklers in tower blocks despite promises made after Grenfell

Mr Javid did not answer directly but said the testing had revealed 169 high-rise social housing buildings in England covered in aluminium composite cladding, 161 of which were unlikely to meet current safety standards.

A spotlight was also shone on council budgets after Ms May said the Government would not provide funds to retrofit tower blocks with sprinklers.

It is “up to the council to make decisions”, the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday – amid a growing furore over the multi-million pound bills that town halls face.

Mr Javid stuck to the party line on Thursday, saying councils that were unable to afford “essential” fire safety maintenance works could apply for financial support.

However, he said it was up to the councils to decide what works were “essential” and ruled out issuing nationwide guidance.

He added that 32 councils had already expressed concern about funding for improvement works.

“We have liaised more closely with seven of these, and one of them has now submitted supporting evidence for consideration by my department,” he said.

It comes as Nottingham, Croydon and Wandsworth all had multi-million pound requests for funding to fit sprinklers turned down – even after being advised to carry out works by their local fire brigades.

SOURCE

‘Universal Credit drove me to the brink of suicide’

Steve Pogson says confusion, contradictory advice, endless expensive phone calls and repeated delays ultimately contributed to him trying to take his own life

A bereaved dad has told how battling with the ‘chaotic’ Universal Credit system in the wake of his daughter’s death helped push him to the brink of suicide.

Steve Pogson suffered a breakdown a year ago and since then has tried twice to claim benefits designed for people too unwell to work.

But faced with the new Universal Credit roll-out he says confusion, contradictory advice, endless expensive phone calls and repeated delays ultimately contributed to him trying to take his own life.

Steve, 50, from New Islington , has suffered depression and anxiety all his life, but had held down a successful civil service career until tragedy hit.

“I worked for HMRC and thoroughly enjoyed the job,” he said.

“When my daughter died in a car accident – my only child – I threw myself into my work rather than address that, but eventually a few years later it just overwhelmed me.

“I lost my job due to having a breakdown and last October just climbed into my bed and used my savings and credit card to get by.”

After six weeks he eventually applied for Universal Credit after being advised by an official that Employment Support Allowance – which is intended for people unable to work due to illness or disability – had now been rolled into it.

But after being bounced backwards and forwards between the departments and repeatedly ringing the government’s 0345 number, his back-dated ESA claim was eventually rejected, despite a letter from his GP stating that he had been unwell.

Worried about his rising levels of debt, he then forced himself back into work, while also embarking on a frustrating appeals process that is yet to be completed.

Eventually his mental health took another turn for the worse.

“I managed to work through until August but this time I attempted suicide, because of the spiralling debt situation, plus the Department for Work and Pensions situation, plus the bereavement,” he said.

Last month, once again unable to work due to his second breakdown, he applied for Universal Credit again and once more got conflicting advice – told by some officials that it included ESA and by others that it was separate.

And he was again told they had no proof of his illness.

“They said they had no supporting documentation of any disability, even though the GP had been in touch and I’ve sent a medical certificate in digital and hard copy form.

“My situation now is that I’ve got completely out of control debt.

“Over the years working for HMRC I brought in millions of pounds in tax revenue that wouldn’t have been otherwise collected and in 12 months the DWP has taken me from being a capable, independent person to being a jibbering wreck.”

Steve is now two months in rent arrears and a fortnight ago had to ask a friend to buy him a £30 food shop. He is still waiting for an answer to his original benefits appeal and now also for the money from his latest claim.

He said the various DWP officers he has dealt with have been ‘superb’, but that the system is just taking him round in circles – with each part not speaking to the other.

“It seems to be that if you are ill and can’t work then they don’t want to know about you,” he said.

“If you ring the staff they try their hardest to help you – but it’s the way it’s operated.

“This limbo is damaging my mental health, which is obviously damaged anyway, which is why I’m not working.”

Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell, who has been helping Steve, believes the lack of clarity over the new and old benefits systems left him ‘caught between the two’.

“The pilot has been marked by long delays and poor interaction with other benefits which has left people who are already struggling without money for long periods of time.

“In Steve’s case this has meant rising debts, unpaid rent and bills and not being able to put food on the table.

“It is no wonder that this pushes people who already struggling closer to the edge. Steve has been in touch with me over the past year about how his destitution and frustration has made him increasingly isolated and contributed to an extremely serious mental health crisis.

“The government need to listen to the experiences of people like Steve, which show that the system isn’t working and shouldn’t be rolled out.

“If they insist on ploughing on regardless there will be many more people who suffer – and I dread the consequences it will have.”

A DWP spokesman said that when Steve applied for Universal Credit last December, he did receive the housing benefit and Jobseekers Allowance element, including an advanced payment.

“We have contacted Mr Pogson to make sure he knows what medical evidence we need from him to support his current claim for ESA,” she added.

SOURCE

ANOTHER DWP ATROCITY: DWP strips ex-nurse of mobility car despite progressive illness

 

‘I’ll be virtually housebound’: DWP strips ex-nurse of mobility car despite progressive illness

MS sufferer and wheelchair user Penny Aitken was granted a mobility car by the government :: Benefits system changes have ruled she no longer needs it

A former nurse was forced to leave a career spanning almost 30 years after being diagnosed with a degenerative illness.

To survive, Penny Aitken, claimed benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and was awarded a specially adapted car to help her cope with progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that will eventually see her permanently in a wheelchair.

But due to changes in the benefits system the DWP is stripping her of the lifeline vehicle, with new guidelines classing her being in less need of it – despite her worsening condition.

The 53-year-old, who received the bad news a day before completing the Middlesbrough 10k in a wheelchair to raise money for research into MS, says the move will leave her “virtually housebound”.

Penny, from Marton , said: “I received a letter from the DWP to say the mobility has been reduced and they are going to take my car.

“They are trying to save money and are taking cars back off people.

“I was awarded it two years ago and they found in my favour.

“But then I received a letter saying otherwise.

“I’m quite a positive person really but you just despair when you have to go through it all again.

“It’s inevitable that I will be in a wheelchair permanently.”

The former anaesthetic nurse was forced to give up work at James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough , in 2015. She had worked at the hospital since 1987.

She first noticed symptoms of MS in 2011 and took ill health retirement four years later, unable to cope with the pressure of being on her feet all day working in operating theatres.

Symptoms of MS include muscle stiffness and tightness which affects movement and eventually leaves sufferers unable to walk.

It also causes problems with vision, numbness, fatigue, dizziness and can trigger depression.

Since leaving her job Penny has tried to stay active in the community – but she relies on her car to get around.

“It’s getting worse,” she said. “I sent off information and they said I would have to go through another assessment.

“I’ll be virtually housebound. People with long-term conditions like myself are being overlooked.”

Penny has been receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the specially adapted car,

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has been introduced by the DWP to replace DLA.

A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Decisions for PIP are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

“Anyone that disagrees with a decision can appeal.”

He added “most people” leaving the Motability scheme are entitled to a one-off £2,000 payment to help them with alternative transport arrangements.

SOURCE