Mother of ESA suicide mum-of-nine praises activist for confronting McVey

The mother of a woman who killed herself after her disability benefits were sanctioned has praised a disabled activist who confronted work and pensions secretary Esther McVey about her daughter’s death as she gave evidence to Scottish MSPs this week.

The activist, David*, had told Joy Dove of his plans to question McVey about her daughter’s suicide as the minister was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee on Monday.

Jodey Whiting, a seriously-ill mother-of-nine, from Stockton, took her own life last year after having her employment and support allowance (ESA) sanctioned.

She had her ESA stopped after missing a work capability assessment because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst, and never opened the letter telling her about the appointment.

David, from the campaign group Class War Scotland, who was sitting in public seats behind McVey, called out (listen from 52 minutes) as she was replying to a question from an MSP about her government’s policies on social security reform and whether she should apologise to the people of Scotland.

Mother of ESA suicide woman pledges to continue fight for justice

David called out: “What about Jodey Whiting, mother of nine, who committed suicide after her ESA was stopped? “It was stopped because she missed an appointment.” The committee meeting was suspended and David left the hearing.

When the hearing restarted, McVey (pictured giving evidence) responded to the request from SNP MSP Ben Macpherson for her to apologise for the “suffering and distress” caused by her government’s social security reforms**.

But instead of apologising, McVey said: “I am not oblivious to people who are incredibly vulnerable or who are in need, and obviously the gentleman felt he needed to have his points said about something that was very important to him about someone who was very vulnerable but what we aim to do with the money we spend from DWP, which is nearly £200 billion per year… [is]make sure that we reach out to the most vulnerable.

“If anybody does not get that support, it is not through lack of trying because that is what people are employed to do, to reach out and support people.” She said it was important to have “as best oversight as we possibly can, learning from it all the time as best as we possibly can”.

After the meeting, David told Disability News Service (DNS) how Joy Dove had approved his plan to raise her daughter’s case with McVey. He said: “She wants justice for Jodey. “She is looking for answers and a reason why her 42-year-old daughter is now dead because of a Tory system that is purposely designed to hurt and damage people.”

David said he had wanted to ask McVey key questions about Jodey Whiting’s case but had become frustrated with the “stage managed” evidence session and the failure of MSPs to challenge or confront the minister about her government’s failings.

Joy Dove told DNS (see separate story) last night (Wednesday) that she had been delighted to hear how David had confronted McVey, which she saw as the latest step in her campaign for justice for her daughter, which includes a Justice for Jodey petition that demands a change in the law and an inquiry. When she heard the recording of David mentioning her daughter’s name she said she “just felt great”. She said: “I am so grateful to him. I am really pleased he did it.”

McVey’s appearance in front of the committee had to be suspended a second time after she was asked about the so-called “rape clause”, where women must prove non-consensual conception to qualify for tax credits and universal credit for a third child.

McVey argued that DWP’s decision to ask third-party groups to take that evidence from women who had been raped was “providing extra help and support” to them and was “an opportunity to talk about something that they never had before” and was therefore “potentially double support”.

Politicians and campaigners later called on her to apologise for her comments.

During the evidence session, McVey repeatedly resisted attempts by committee members to ask her to confirm that many people would be worse-off under universal credit.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone reminded McVey that Paul Gray, who chairs her own department’s social security advisory body, had said that universal credit would produce “more losers than gainers”.

But McVey said the committee needed to “look at the system in the totale” and consider also “the extra support for childcare costs, the increase we are seeing in the national living wage, the increase we are seeing in personal tax allowance” and “200,000 more people into work” in Scotland since 2010.

McVey’s reluctance may be partly because, in less than two weeks, the high court is due to hear a judicial review of the financial impact of the introduction of universal credit on disabled people with high support needs.

George Adam, an SNP MSP, told McVey that one of his constituents had been sanctioned because he had had a heart attack and was receiving treatment in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

He said: “You’re saying it’s fit for purpose but these things keep happening, these things keep going on all the time, nothing seems to be changing for people in my constituency or across Scotland.”

McVey said that “vulnerable” people were receiving support from DWP and “people in that situation” would have “full mitigation and they would not have any sanctions” and that “for the vast, vast majority of people it is working”.

She asked for his constituent’s name and address so DWP could support him and “make sure all is now going well” and “find out what went wrong” and “learn from that” and other such cases.

Another disabled activist who attended the committee meeting was Marion Nisbet, of Glasgow Disabled People Against Cuts.

She also confronted McVey at the end of the session about the many deaths of disabled people who had been found fit for work through the work capability assessment, and her comments about the rape clause.

She said: “She didn’t turn around. She just totally ignored everything.”

After the evidence session, Macpherson and Adam spoke to activists holding a small demonstration outside the Scottish parliament, which the user-led grassroots network Black Triangle helped to organise.

A spokesman for Black Triangle said the protest had been organised to show McVey that disabled people had been “stripped of the support they require to survive by this brutal system”.

And he said that McVey and her government had shown themselves to be “steadfastly unmoved” by the comments of the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded last August that their cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused a “human catastrophe”.

The spokesman said: “It’s been eight years since Paul Reekie took his own life following a DWP-Atos work capability assessment (WCA).

“Sadly, the system has not changed for the better – it has become even more draconian.

“They are forced into semi-starvation, destitution and many – like Jodey Whiting – are driven to the ultimate tragedy, suicide.

“The entire, lethal disability assessment system – both the WCA and personal independence payment – must be scrapped in their entirety, along with universal credit, which must be seen as the final phase of their ‘welfare reform’ programme.”

*He has asked for his full name not to be used

**In November 2016, McVey’s predecessor, Damian Green, refused three times to apologise or even acknowledge the distress and harm caused by cuts and reforms, “particularly [through]the work capability assessment, sanctions and cuts and the wider austerity agenda”, when he appeared in front of the same committee.

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Unused army rations could be given to the homeless after 14,000 packs wasted in a year

More than 14,000 packs were chucked away in just 12 months – the biggest number wasted in at least the past four years.

Unused Army rations could be handed to the homeless amid a huge surge in food thrown away by soldiers. More than 14,000 packs were chucked away in just 12 months – the biggest number wasted in at least the past four years.

The record amount of waste comes amid growing unease at the bulging mountain of food thrown away. Official figures show 14,273 operational ration packs were discarded in 2016-17 compared with just 110 in 2013-14.

Statistics uncovered using written parliamentary questions show the total rose to 5,004 in 2014-15 before doubling to 10,798 in 2015-16. Campaigners want the excess rations given to the homeless.

Lib Dem defence spokesman Sir Ming Cambell said: “It is necessary for the Army to ensure that it has the right range of supplies to enable it to react swiftly to changing operational demands, but this level of waste raises questions about how disciplined the Ministry of Defence is at a time of severe budgetary pressure.

“To give the excess food to the homeless will make a big difference to people living on the streets, but the question remains why such a waste of resources happened in the first place.”

A typical 24-hour Army ration pack can contain about 4,000 calories and includes three main meals such as an all day breakfast, tuna with pasta and a chicken mushroom pasta.

It can also include snacks such as a ginger pudding, a brown biscuit, a mix fruit puree, peanut butter, cheese spread, a cranberry cereal bar and hot pepper sauce. The pack also provides drink powder mixes such as a strawberry isotonic, raspberry, cola, tropical, orange and hot chocolate.

Backing demands to give food to the homeless, Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: “The Government should consider this proposal as a sensible and rational way of ensuring that these packs do not simply go to waste.

“Rough sleeping has increased dramatically since 2010 and it is disappointing that we even need to be having this conversation in Britain in 2018.”

Amid mounting calls to donate supplies, Defence Minister Guto Bebb told MPs in a written Commons answer: “The Ministry of Defence is reviewing its storage and disposal policy for ration packs.” Labour former Welfare Minister Frank Field, who chairs Westminster’s Work and Pensions Committee, first called for the policy switch to hand unused rations to the homeless more than a year ago.

Blasting the rising number of ration packs wasted, he said then: “The number is going up and they’re only destroying it. “I just hope someone will look into it. Let’s move it from one army to the army of the homeless.

“These supplies are designed for people, in a sense, to eat on the run, and people in doorways are in a similar position. “They’re ideally constructed for when people haven’t got much.”

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May was not opposed to ‘go home’ vans, official accounts suggest

When you see how Theresa May has treated the UK groups [the poor, sick’ disabled, jobless, etc] she obviously hates, then is it surprising that she wasn’t opposed to the ‘go home’ vans?


Statements contradict Nick Timothy’s claim that May tried to block rollout during crackdown against illegal immigration

The vans, which were driven around six London boroughs with areas of high migration, became notorious as part of May’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy
 The vans, which were driven around six London boroughs with areas of high migration, became notorious as part of May’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy. 

Official accounts appear to contradict claims by Theresa May’s former special adviser that she attempted to block controversial “go home” vans telling illegal immigrants to leave the country.

Nick Timothy, who was May’s adviser at the Home Office and her chief of staff at No 10 until July, said she had intended to block the rollout of advertising vans that said those in the UK illegally should “go home or face arrest”.

The vehicles, which were driven around six London boroughs with areas of high migration, became notorious as part of May’s “hostile environment” strategyaiming to crack down on illegal immigration.

Timothy claimed May had unfairly received a lot of flak for the vans. “In fact, she blocked the proposal but it was revived and approved in a communications plan while she was on holiday,” he wrote in a column for the Telegraph. “She killed off the scheme later that year but by then the damage had been done.”

 Theresa May’s thuggish stance on migrants caused the Windrush scandal

However, in a reply to the Labour MP Tulip Siddiq in 2016, the immigration minister, Robert Goodwill, said the pilot scheme, which ran between July and August 2013, had been approved by the prime minister when she was at the Home Office.

“The pilot to use the AdVans referred to was authorised by former immigration minister Mark Harper,” he said. “The former home secretary Theresa May was informed of the intention to pilot this campaign.”

May also suggested she had approved the plans when she was at a home affairs select committee in October 2013 and hinted the pilot could be extended – though it was eventually pulled.

Asked if the vans were her idea, May said: “It was part of a package that was looked at and agreed that this package would be put forward. If you are saying to me, chairman, did I say to them, ‘I think it would be a jolly good idea to have vans going round the country,’ no, it was not my initial idea. The package was brought forward and looked at, and there are variety of elements to it.”

On Thursday, No 10 did not back Timothy’s claims that May had wanted to block the vans. “You’ve seen the prime minister’s words on various occasions, at the home affairs select committee and other places, we’ve got nothing more to add to that, it remains the position,” a spokesman said.

Liberal Democrat sources also cast doubt on the version of events surrounding the approval of the “go home” vans, suggesting that advertising budgets were very constrained by austerity measures and campaigns were signed off months in advance with ministerial approval.

One source said the Lib Dems had been given the opportunity to block the signoff, but claimed the email was sent by officials on a Friday afternoon during a staff leaving party and the message was missed.

Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem home office minister during the period when the vans were approved, suggested after he was sacked in 2013 that his failure to block the pilot had been part of the reason behind the reshuffle, but insisted in an interview with the Times that he was not told.

“I wasn’t copied into the paper that was circulated in the Home Office. Now whether that was due to a deliberate political decision or was an administrative oversight, who knows?” he said. “It seems unduly critical to be blamed for not stopping something I didn’t know about.”

Speaking on Thursday, Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister, said May had “immature and overexcitable special advisers” but added that was not an excuse. “As secretary of state she bears responsibility of what goes on in her department,” he said.

The vans were scrapped after the pilot scheme, which ran during MPs’ Easter recess between 22 July and 22 August 2013. A final Home Office report revealed only 11 people had left the country as a direct result of the ads.

The evaluation report revealed that 1,561 text messages were sent to the hotline which offered to help illegal migrants return to their home countries, but 1,034 were hoaxes, which took 17 hours of staff time to deal with.

May said at the time the vans had been “too much of a blunt instrument”.

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Charities delivering DWP’s work programme ‘must promise not to attack McVey’

I am an avid workfare hater and I have boycotted many charity shops because of their greedy exploitation of jobseekers, my daughter was forced to work for Poundland and her friend was forced to work for Barnardos [fortunately they both have jobs now]. I have never given a penny/donation to any of these charities since they joined league with the DWP to torture the poor – GN.

Disability charities that sign up to help deliver the government’s new Work and Health Programme must promise to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, official documents suggest.

The charities, and other organisations, must also promise never to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in McVey (pictured) or her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disability charities like RNIB, the Royal Association for Deaf People and Turning Point have agreed to act as key providers of services under the Work and Health Programme – which focuses on supporting disabled people and other disadvantaged groups into work – and so appear to be caught by the clause in the contract.

At least one of them – RNIB – has also signed contracts with one of the five main WHP contractors that contain a similar clause, which explicitly states that the charity must not “attract adverse publicity” to DWP and McVey.

The £398 million, seven-year Work and Health Programme is replacing the Work Programme and the specialist Work Choice disability employment scheme across England and Wales, with contractors paid mostly by results.

All the disability charities that have so far been contacted by Disability News Service (DNS) insist that the clause – which DWP says it has been using in such contracts since 2015 – will have no impact on their willingness to criticise DWP and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey or campaign on disability employment or benefits issues.

But the existence of the clause, and the first details to emerge of some of the charities that have agreed to work for DWP – which has been repeatedly attacked by disabled activists and academics for harassing and persecuting disabled people, and relying on a discriminatory benefit sanctions regime to try to force them into work – will raise questions about their ability and willingness to do so.

It will also raise questions about their independence when delivering future statements on these issues.

The clause was revealed through a freedom of information request by DNS, with DWP finally producing contracts signed by the five main Work and Health Programme contractors, four months after the request was first submitted.

The contracts signed by the five organisations – the disability charity Shaw Trust, the disability employment company Remploy (now mostly owned by the discredited US company Maximus), Pluss, Reed in Partnership and Ingeus UK – all include a clause on “publicity, media and official enquiries”.

Part of that clause states that the contractor “shall pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP and ensure it does nothing to bring it “into disrepute, damages the reputation of the Contracting Body or harms the confidence of the public in the Contracting Body”.

The contract defines the “Contracting Body” as the work and pensions secretary, a position currently occupied by the much-criticised Esther McVey (see separate story).

And it warns that these promises apply whether or not the damaging actions relate to the Work and Health Programme, and it says they also apply to any of the contractor’s “Affiliates”.

This suggests that none of the organisations involved in providing services under the programme – and particularly those carrying out key elements of the contracts – will ever be allowed to criticise, or damage the reputation of, DWP or McVey during the course of the contract in connection with any area of the department’s work.

There is still considerable confusion over exactly how many disability charities will be paid to work for the five main contractors.

The contractual documents include the names of scores of organisations, including charities, local authorities, education providers and companies.

But some of the disability charities named – including Mencap and the National Autistic Society – made it clear this week that they have not agreed to carry out services under the Work and Health Programme, despite being named as “stakeholders” in the documents.

Other disability charities, though, have confirmed that they will be providing services under the WHP.

Among those organisations that have signed letters agreeing to provide services as a subcontractor for the Ingeus contract with DWP is the disability charity RNIB, which is currently “working on an agreement with them”, while it is already a subcontractor with Shaw Trust.

An RNIB spokeswoman said: “RNIB has a number of contracts for different services provided to the Shaw Trust as a sub-contractor.

“Some of the contracts do include a clause stating that when providing the services, we shall not do anything that may damage the reputation of the Shaw Trust (the contractor of the DWP) or of the DWP which has commissioned the services to be carried out by the Shaw Trust.”

That clause is almost identical to the one in the contracts signed by the five main contractors and says RNIB must not do anything to “attract adverse publicity” to DWP or “harm the confidence of the public” in DWP.

RNIB claimed that the clause “only refers to how we carry out the contracted services and does not restrict our campaigning ability. It relates solely to how we carry out the specific services.”

Another disability charity, the Royal Association for Deaf People (RADP), is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Pluss contract.

RADP had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).

A third charity, Turning Point, is described as a “core stakeholder” in the Remploy contract, while it is also mentioned in the Ingeus and Shaw Trust contracts.

Turning Point had refused to answer questions about the contract by noon today (Thursday).

Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD) – despite being mentioned in the Shaw Trust contract – says it has only agreed to provide support services in two London boroughs as part of the Ingeus contract.

An LCD spokesman said this work “in no way compromises our ability to campaign around issues related to payments or social care reform” or on the Work and Health Programme.

Action on Hearing Loss – formerly known as RNID – refused to comment on its presence in the Remploy contract with DWP, other than to praise its own campaigning work.

Business Disability Forum, which is mentioned in the Pluss contract, also refused to comment.

Remploy said the clause in its contract with DWP was “standard contractual language and has not impacted on our ability to support service users or engage with delivery partners”.

A Remploy spokesman said it was working “in collaboration with many organisations as we deliver the Work and Health Programme across Wales” and that the many stakeholders mentioned in the document were “public, private and third sector organisations across Wales that Remploy has identified and plans to engage with and signpost to as it delivers the Work and Health Programme”.

But he declined to say whether Remploy believed the clause also applied to its stakeholders and subcontractors.

Shaw Trust said the “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause had been present “in previous DWP contracts” and “does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity”.

A Shaw Trust spokeswoman said the “stakeholders” named in the contract were “organisations we will engage with over the life of the contract to encourage voluntary referrals to the Work and Health Programme, or will engage to potentially source additional support to participants with wider requirements”.

She claimed that “no funds are proposed to be transferred in exchange for services” provided by these stakeholders, but she had not been able to clarify by noon today (Thursday) why these stakeholders would want to work for Shaw Trust for free.

A DWP spokeswoman appeared to suggest that the clause was partly intended to prevent those organisations providing services under the WHP from speaking out publicly to criticise DWP.

She said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.

“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015.

“The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.

“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”

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How benefit sanctions push single parents further from work

Reblogged from British Politics and Policy

Image result for benefit sanctions

Benefit sanctions encourage job-seeking behaviour, successive governments have claimed. Yet in the case of single parents, sanctions actually move parents further from work, write Sumi Rabindrakumar and Laura Dewar. They draw on Gingerbread’s research to show how parents are often penalised despite seeking work, caught out by unrealistic expectations from jobcentres and poor administration.

The government argues that benefit sanctions serve a purpose. Under job-seeking benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, penalising those who claim benefits but do not comply with conditions is said to provide fairness for the taxpayer and change behaviour to help people into work.

In some ways, these principles are intuitive. Indeed, when benefit sanctions are criticised, defenders point to the fact that claimants themselves often agree that penalties should be in place for those who ‘don’t do the right thing’. However, this still raises significant questions as to whether this is actually how sanctions are being used and whether they achieve the impact the government intends.

New research from Gingerbread sheds light on some answers. We already know that the growth in single parent sanctions indicates they are far from the ‘last resort’ that policymakers claim. These findings, based on single parent case studies, show just how far-reaching the impact of sanctions is on families – whether as a result of warnings or actual penalties imposed. Sanctioned single parents describe the severe financial and emotional toll of the sanctions regime; and how they were pushed into debt as a result. Even when sanctions are overturned and benefits repaid, the length of the appeal process means the financial burden is still heavy. The worry and stress caused by even warnings over sanctions was made clear – as the main carer for their children, this caused particular concern for single parents.

Total and utter fear, shock and worry. Panic about how to manage.

The impact of sanctions is not limited to claimants. When benefits are cut, other support must pick up the pieces. This includes friends and family, as well as local services. Housing providers and the voluntary sector were typically relied upon for further assistance – particularly local advice services and foodbanks, as others have found. It also highlights the precarious nature of support for those affected by benefit sanctions. Single parents reported the finite amount of support that already-stretched family and friends can provide; local advice services are increasingly under-funded and not an option for all sanctioned claimants.

Perhaps the government sees this is an unfortunate but necessary result of ensuring people are doing what they can to seek work. Yet the evidence suggests that sanctions actually move single parents further from work. There are practical considerations – parents said they could not afford to travel to the jobcentre or interviews while sanctioned; others have been caught between sanctions and a desire to find more sustainable work. For example, one parent could no longer meet the shift patterns required by an employer alongside caring for her child and was forced to leave her job. She was sanctioned as a result and the financial pressures meant she had to take the first available (and insecure) job rather than wait to apply for a more senior and flexible job as suggested by her work coach. Finally, sanctions – particularly unfair sanctions – fundamentally damage parents’ relationship with their jobcentre and advisers. This chimes with evidence suggesting that some claimants leave the benefit system altogether after being sanctioned.

The government may regard these effects as fair consequences for ‘non-compliance’. Yet as the report shows, single parents are in fact job-seeking, but are impeded by external factors. The lack of part-time or flexible work can mean some do not meet the strict criteria for the number of job applications made in a week. The lack of local affordable childcare can mean single parents need to give up work. Yet, despite the intention to seek and remain in work, single parents are penalised.

This approach to sanctioning is clearly not focused simply on wilful non-compliance. It is the result of a tick-box approach to policing job-seeking activity. Moreover, claimant commitments and Universal Credit were supposed to address individual circumstances to avoid just this rigid approach. However, there is little evidence of this working for single parents. In fact, there are signs that Universal Credit is making things worse. More single parents are now subject to job-seeking conditions (parents of three and four years must seek work and there are conditions to encourage working claimants to increase their pay or hours being piloted) and therefore at risk of being caught out by rigid rules. Worse, the chaotic delivery of support for childcare costs has meant some single parents have had to give up work – and been sanctioned as a result.

The findings add to a growing weight of evidence asking serious questions of the sanctions regime – not just about how sanctions are administered, but their purpose as a whole. Arguably, the experience to date indicates that benefit sanctions poorly serve those with additional support needs and barriers to work and begs the question as to whether they should be used at all – particularly given the impact on claimants with children.

I don’t think the children should be punished…[they] still need to be fed and clothed and live in a warm home…sanctions undermine the purpose of the benefit system in our country to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from poverty.

Notwithstanding an in-depth review of the use of sanctions, the government can limit the financial impact of sanctions in the short term. Instead of dragging its heels, it can introduce a proper ‘yellow card’ system where warnings are used in the first instance, instead of sanctions. The government can also reduce the financial penalty of a sanction – it cannot be right to withdraw an element of state support in its entirety. Alongside this, the government can do more to target sanctions on genuine non-compliance. The government must make conditions realistic for groups like single parents, where they face barriers to work rather than lack the motivation to comply with conditions, and ensure claimant commitments reflect the flexibility needed to accommodate claimants’ needs.

Single parents overwhelmingly want to work – around seven in ten already do. There is little evidence which suggests the sevenfold increase in the number of benefit sanctions for single parents between 2005/06 and 2016/17 (the latter taking Jobseeker’s Allowance and Universal Credit sanctions together) is warranted as a result of single parent job-seeking behaviour. The government has a chance with the new system of Universal Credit to put in place a system that genuinely encourages people to find work, and supports them to sustain and progress in work. While it is politically unlikely that sanctions will be halted, there are choices the government can make to ensure they are not wasting resources on an ineffective and inappropriate policy.

Homelessness has been one of the biggest talking points of 2018 so far, and for good reason. Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK are forced to live on the streets, sofa surf, or are stuck in dangerous rentals and unable to speak out. And more than a million people have to deal with a rogue landlord who breaks the law.

 

For most people, homelessness is difficult to imagine. But it isn’t as far away as we’d like to think: in fact, given how prevalent it is, you probably know someone who is, or has been, temporarily homeless.

It’s also an issue that touches on the very core of our human rights: after all, a stable home has a huge impact on our entire lives. From our education and health, to our dignity and right to a family and private life, we need to be doing more to make sure these rights are real for everyone.

1 in 200 People Are Homeless or Living in Inadequate Housing

Image Credit: Jem Collins / Infogr.am

Homelessness isn’t just a number, but it is a big number, with 300,000 people in the UK affected according to statistics from November 2017. That’s roughly 1 in every 200.

Let’s put that figure in a familiar context. How big was your school? In secondary school, the average class size is slightly more than 20. Times that by 14 (we’re assuming two classes per year group, and two years of A Level or further education classes) and you’re already at 280 pupils.

That’s about one and a half children in your school who could be homeless if we tie it back to the official government stats. That’s someone who was walking the same corridors as you, perhaps even in your class. And you might not have even known it.

Children in Temporary Accommodation Up by a Third

Image Credit: Jem Collins / Infogr.am

Experiencing homelessness as a child can have a seriously negative impact on your health and development. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has signed and ratified, recognises the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development,” and adequate housing is clearly fundamental to realising this right.

According to 2017 figures from the Local Government Association, the number of children in temporary accommodation has soared by more than a third in the past three years. This means there are now more than 120,000 children and their families in England living in temporary housing.

The law says that temporary housing should be suitable, however, as our first-hand testimonies show, this isn’t always the case.

Homeless families should also not be kept in B&Bs for longer than six weeks, but from January to March 2017, 1,290 homeless families spent more than six weeks in such accommodation due to housing shortages. Furthermore, 74% of homeless families stay in temporary accommodation for more than a year.

50 Percent Rise in Rough Sleepers In Five Years

Image Credit: Jem Collins / Infogr.am

Perhaps the most visible sign of homelessness though is rough sleepers, and the figures don’t look good here either.

Official figures estimate there are now 4,751 people sleeping rough in England on any given night – this figure has more than doubled in the past five years. There’s also been a consistent year-on-year increase for the past seven years – when the current methodology was introduced.

While most rough sleepers are found in London (closely followed by the South East, with more areas averaging more than 1,000 people on any given night), the most dramatic increase has been in the North West of England. Here rough sleeping has shot up by 39 percent.

Millions Suffering from Rogue Landlords

Homelessness isn’t the only serious issue regarding Britain’s housing; rogue landlords continue to make their tenants’ lives a misery. Research by housing charity Shelter found that more than a million people across the UK have suffered due to their landlord’s illegal behaviour. 

Looking at behaviour ranging from cutting off utilities to harassment or unsafe properties, Shelter estimates that one in eight renters has been a victim. Many tenants are too scared to speak out in case their landlord retaliates with a revenge eviction, refuses to give them a reference, refuses to return their deposit, or abuses their power in other ways.

It’s clear that for thousands of people here in the UK a permanent, and safe, home is far from a reality. Human rights can provide vital safeguards, but as the figures starkly show, much more work needs to be done to fix these issues and ensure that everyone can realise their full set of rights.

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Split universal credit payments between partners to curb abuse

Split universal credit payments between partners to curb abuse, ministers urged

Experts tell MPs single household payments make it easier for domestic abusers to seize and regulate family income

Frank Field
 Frank Field, chair of the committee, says the switch to universal credit had increased the risk of women being bullied by their partners. 

Universal credit payments should be split between the male and female partner in claimant households to minimise the risk of domestic abusers exerting financial control over their victim, MPs have been told.

Experts told the work and pensions select committee that universal credit’s single monthly household payment made it easier for domestic abusers to seize and regulate family income and prevent partners from leaving the home.

Universal credit ‘flaws’ mean thousands will be worse off 

Marilyn Howard, a financial abuse expert at the University of Bristol, told MPs: “Our concern is the one payment of universal credit can concentrate power and resources in the hands of one partner, and that carries the risk that abusers can take advantage.”

Asked by the committee chair, Frank Field, whether the switch to universal credit increased the risk of women being bullied by their partners, Howard replied: “Yes, I believe it would do.”

Witnesses from grassroots domestic violence refuges and charities giving evidence to the committee said the single universal credit payment allowed abuse perpetrators to “distribute family income in the way they see fit”.

Universal credit rolls six working-age benefits into a single monthly payment with the aim of simplifying the social security system. However, MPs heard this in effect “de-labelled” constituent payments, such as child tax credits, that were previously earmarked for children, and paid to the main carer, normally the mother.

Howard said: “With the [universal credit] online system abusers may be a click away, where under previous systems it may have taken more a bit more time and effort to obtain someone’s benefit entitlement.”

Concerns over domestic abuse and universal credit were raised at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, where the the Scottish National party MP Philippa Whitford appealed to the prime minister, Theresa May, to end the practice of single universal credit payments.

May replied that single payments were available on request, but Whitford said changing the claim in this way made women more financially vulnerable. “Eighty-five percent of abuse survivors say they wouldn’t have dared to request single payments as a special measure as it would have worsened abuse.”

This month the family support minister, Kit Malthouse, told the work and pensions committee that it was “completely without foundation” that universal credit would exacerbate domestic violence and insisted that single payments could be made on request.

The committee heard that frontline domestic abuse workers were spending increasing amounts of time trying to sort out universal credit problems for victims of domestic violence, at the expense of the wider direct support they could offer.

Delays and bureaucracy experienced by universal credit claimants had driven some domestic abuse victims back to their abuser, Nicola Kyser-Forrest, the homelessness service manager at Calderdale council, told MPs.

In one case an abuse victim had lost a place in a refuge because it was impossible to get officials to rule whether the woman, an European Economic Area national, qualified for universal credit housing costs.

“We couldn’t speak to anybody to get that confirmation, and so the refuge were unable to offer her a place, knowing that she may not be eligible for assistance. That led to the lady returning to her partner,” she said.

Demelza Lobb, the technology abuse lead at the Refuge charity, said the uncertainty and stress caused by universal credit delays had led to several women going back to their abusive partners. “They say: ‘It might be easier, at least I’ll have an income, I’ll be able to get food,’” she said.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Abuse in any form is completely unacceptable, and Jobcentre Plus staff do everything they can to make sure people fleeing domestic abuse get the help they need as quickly as possible.

“That includes fast tracking advances so that people are not left without money and transferring a person’s claim to a different Jobcentre.”

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