More than half of homeless families in England are in work!

More than half of homeless families in England are in work, figures show that tens of thousands of working households are in temporary accommodation because they are unable to pay ‘hideously unaffordable’ rents, warns Shelter.

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More than half of homeless families across England are in work but soaring rent and a lack of social housing is pushing more households into temporary accommodation, a charity has warned.

Data obtained by Shelter shows that more than 33,000 families in temporary accommodation are holding down a job despite having nowhere stable to live – a figure that has increased by 73 per cent since 2013, when it was 19,000 families.

One single mother, Mary Smith, who works full-time in a shoe shop, told The Independent she and her three sons had been stuck in a “vicious cycle” of unstable temporary accommodation for two years after being evicted from their private rented property. They have been unable to afford to rent somewhere else.

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They are among thousands of working households in low-paid, part-time or contract jobs that are no longer able to afford rents and are therefore being forced into poor and overcrowded temporary accommodation, according to Shelter.

The charity said losing a tenancy was now the single biggest cause of homelessness in the country, accounting for more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all households accepted as homeless in the last year.

It comes after analysis revealed at least 310,500 households in England have been waiting to be moved into social homes for more than half a decade, with more than 100,000 stuck on waiting lists for more than 10 years and some waiting for as many as 18 years.

Separate research by Heriot-Watt University in May showed the country had a backlog of 3.91 million homes, meaning 340,000 new homes need to be built each year until 2031 – a figure significantly higher than the government’s current target of 300,000 homes annually.

Ms Smith and her three sons, now aged 18, 19 and 21, had lived in a private rented property in Watford for 13 years when the landlord evicted them two years ago, forcing them to move into a hostel.

“We were stuck in an absolute hobble of a rat-infested hostel. Food would get stolen. I nearly lost my job when we first became homeless because transport links to work were so bad,” said Ms Smith.

The family spent three months in the hostel before being moved into temporary accommodation, and they have since been moved to two other temporary properties, which Ms Smith said was destabilising for both her and her sons.

Despite working full-time and recently getting a pay rise, her salary is not enough to rent a property. “I feel like we’re in a vicious cycle. We’ve been in properties that are freezing and have mould crawling up the walls. And we’re still uncertain of our future. The boys have gone through a lot. It’s meant they haven’t reached their potential. There’s just no safety net for us,” she said.

“I love my job and have worked there for four and a half years. I’ve just accepted a 40 hour a week temporary to cover the manager, which meant I got a pay rise, but I don’t see any benefit from the salary.

“Higher pay doesn’t seem to make you better off because it just means you get less support. I’ve struggled to put food on the table. As a proud person, I don’t like asking for help, but it’s from the kindness of friends we got through. It’s heartbreaking.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said it was “disgraceful” that even when families were working every hour they could, they were still being forced to live through the “grim reality of homelessness”.

“In many cases, these are parents who work all day or night before returning to a cramped hostel or B&B where their whole family is forced to share a room. A room with no space for normal family life like cooking, playing or doing homework,” she added.

“We cannot allow struggling families to slip through the cracks created by our housing crisis – the government must urgently come up with a new plan for social housing that delivers the genuinely affordable homes we desperately need.

“Our commission on the future of social housing will be calling for bold solutions, because more of the same is simply not good enough”

A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “Everyone deserves a safe and decent place to live and we are providing more than £1.2bn so all those left homeless get the support they need.

“Councils have a duty to provide suitable temporary accommodation to those who need it, and families with children get priority. So families can get a permanent home, we are investing £9bn in affordable properties, including £2bn for social rent housing.”

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In Memoriam

The Tories must be very proud of the fall out from their welfare “reforms”

Blaming Firefighters for Grenfell is Grotesque!

Firefighters were undisputed heroes of Grenfell inferno – trying to shift the blame onto them is grotesque. Heroes like North Kensington crew manager Christopher Secrett prepared to die when his oxygen almost ran out as he tried to save a 12-year old girl on the 20th floor

Firefighters were the undisputed heroes of the Grenfell Tower inferno so subtle sniping and smearing to shift blame for the catastrophe is grotesque.

Heroes like North Kensington crew manager Christopher Secrett, who prepared to die when his oxygen almost ran out as he tried to save a 12-year old girl on the 20th floor.

He positioned himself in a corner of the smoke-clogged stairs so his body wouldn’t be in the way if he perished.

TUC head Frances O’Grady blasts critics as “unfit to lace the boots” of workers who risked their lives to save others in the London tower block.

She isn’t alone in scenting attempts to exploit evidence at the public inquiry to nudge culpability for 72 deaths on to the bravest of the brave.

The inferno claimed 72 lives 
Firefighters line the street during a silent march on the one year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire (Image: Getty)

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged his total support for crews as Tory MPs whisper criticism and the Tory press gleefully finds fault.

Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack, himself a firefighter, blasts a “back-to-front” inquiry.By starting the Grenfell probe with the 999 call, chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick relegated in the public consciousness fatal mistakes by Tory-led Kensington and Chelsea council, including cheaper flammable cladding.

“The building was wrapped in petrol,” Wrack told me. “Where is the focus on deregulation and a criminal complacency with public safety? There are some trying to blame firefighters and it’s worrying there appears to be an effort to rewrite events.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged his total support for crews 

Wrack has urged every firefighter to be completely honest but fears the local authority and contractors will use legal excuses to dodge difficult questions. He criticised “absurd” questions to watch manager Michael Dowden, who broke down in tears. He didn’t fit the flammable cladding or undermine the block’s fire safety, said Wrack.

Examining the “stay put” policy instead of ordering immediate evacuation is legitimate but O’Grady and Wrack are right: Zeroes are self-interested cowards blaming real heroes.

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The Universal credit IT system is ‘broken’

Tell us something we don’t know!


Universal credit IT system ‘broken’, whistleblowers say, service centre staff say glitches are having harmful effect on huge number of claimants.

uc-benefits-sign-post

Universal credit is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to whistleblowers.

One said: “The IT system on which universal credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct. “In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks. Campaigners warn that the problems could get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

Growing concern over universal credit, which is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of benefits going to 8 million people, is matched by disquiet over what critics say has been a defensive and insular approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The department came under withering fire last week from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech on Thursday in which she admitted there were problems with universal credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

One whistleblower said many of the design problems with universal credit stemmed from the failure to understand claimants’ needs, especially where they lacked digital skills and internet access. “We are punishing claimants for not understanding a system that is not built with them in mind,” he said.

Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary
McVey has admitted there are problems with universal credit [you think!]

The DWP said it would not comment on the whistleblowers’ specific claims but insisted the system was being constantly improved. “Universal credit is a flexible and responsive benefit and we continue to listen to feedback and make any necessary improvements during the rollout with our test-and-learn approach.

“We are committed to ensuring people get the help they need and the majority of staff say universal credit gives them greater flexibility to give people the right support. The latest figures show 83% of claimants are satisfied with the system and complaint rates are low.”

Bayard Tarpley, 27, who left the Grimsby service centre last week after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.
Joanne Huggins, former case manager in Grimsby
Former Grimsby case manager Joanne Huggins: ‘The system is set up in such a way that people don’t get support.’

Food banks were regarded as a formal backstop for when the system failed, he said. Officials are told to advise claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. Many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of cuts.

A second whistleblower, Joanne Huggins, who was until recently a case manager at the Grimsby centre, said that high staff caseloads and a high volume of calls to the service made it difficult to keep track of and prioritise claimants’ problems. “The system is set up in such a way that people don’t get support,” she said.

At least £1.3bn has been spent since 2010 developing universal credit. Although it is heralded as a streamlined digital replacement for the existing benefit system, a recent National Audit Office report concluded it was still in many aspects unwieldy, inefficient and reliant on basic manual processes.

The DWP says it operates a “test-and-learn” approach to constantly improve the system, although the whistleblower said in his experience staff suggestions were ignored and “top down” adjustments tended to follow media or political controversies, such as the scrapping of call charges on universal credit helplines.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union that represents DWP staff, said: “The findings from the whistleblowers are in line with the ongoing feedback we get from our reps and members who struggle to deliver a service to universal credit claimants in the face of mounting cuts and increasing workloads.”

Citizens Advice said its research showed that a “significant minority” of claimants faced additional waits for payment because of the complicated application process. The 10-stage process took some claimants over a week to complete, even with expert help.

“Top of the government’s list should be simplifying the process and making sure adequate support is in place so that a claim can be completed as quickly as possible,” said the chief executive, Gillian Guy

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Disabled comedian left trapped on board train after it leaves

Tanyalee Davis taken 50 miles out of way, days after she was ‘harassed’ over using a disabled space on another train

Tanyalee Davis with hosts Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langford on ITV’s This Morning show after the first incident.

A comedian who felt “harassed and humiliated” for using a disabled space on a train for her mobility scooter, prompting an apology from the operating company, has had yet another bad experience on the railways.

Tanyalee Davis was en route to York for a show and, although she had already spoken to staff to ensure she would be helped off the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) train, no one came to assist – meaning she had to stay on board until Darlington, 50 miles away.

Canadian-born Davis, 47, who has a form of dwarfism, was ordered to vacate the disabled space on a GWR train earlier this week.

“The train guard came and talked to me and said: ‘I’ve already rung, York knows that you are arriving,’” she said in a video posted to her YouTube channel.

He told her not to panic and that if no one was there to help her, he would come to assist her.

“So we get to York, I’m waiting and nobody’s coming and some people get off and I just assume that the guard will be coming and all of a sudden the train doors close and now I’m off to Darlington.

“The guard on this train is lovely, I don’t know his name but he’s lovely. This is not a beef against the guard, he did everything he could possibly do.

“But this is the problem. The platform staff, he’s rang them, and they were like: ‘What, oh my God, we thought she got off the train.’

“Anyway, oh, another day, another try, you know, and I’ve gotta be on stage in an hour and now I’m going to be an hour out of my way. It’s been a rough day.”

She thanked everyone for the outpouring of public support throughout the week and apologised for not being able to reply to all of the thousands of messages.

The guard was “mortified” and apologised personally and, when she finally arrived at York station, staff were “over the top apologetic” and gave her two bottles of wine.

Luckily, Davis made it to her gig.

A spokesman for LNER told the BBC: “We are very sorry for the unacceptable experience Ms Davis had whilst travelling with us.

“We are fully investigating the incident to understand what went wrong and to ensure that lessons are learnt for the future.”

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Borderline-personality disorder patients can’t trust mental health services

How can we expect borderline personality disorder patients to trust mental health services when the staff don’t trust them? Establishing trust is a huge ask for patients who have experience damage at the hands of others. Yet we punish psychiatric patients by giving them a label that enables others to carry on treating them like dirt

Psychiatric staff demonstrably move away from and feel less emotionally connected to people who have been given this label

I am struggling with a paradox. How come theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) recognise that there may be good historic reasons for mistrusting figures of authority, yet brutally insist on submission to certain potentially quite toxic ideas to get any help?

Borderline personality disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis given to people who experience things like a fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, extreme emotional turbulence, rage and disconnection. As a diagnosis, it lacks scientific reliability and validity to such an extent that even psychiatric nosologists (those who classify disorders) are somewhat embarrassed that it continues to be used.

Yet this is not the only reason why so many wish to bin this label. BPD has always been a synonym for the “difficult patient” in psychiatric speak. It is connected with terms like “attention-seeking” and “manipulative” which allow staff to paint a picture where patients “wilfully” pit people against one another. People who have been diagnosed with BPD are positioned as too sexual, too clever and too aware of their actions to deserve care, interest and respect.

BPD is all too often experienced as a dustbin diagnosis by patients, staining on one’s entire personality and reinforcing early messages from outside that one is unlovable, wrong, defective or too much. Nothing could be less true of the brave and brilliant people I know personally and professionally with this diagnosis, all of whom are survivors in every sense of the word.

They are survivors because many of them are struggling in life after traumatic early experiences such as childhood sexual abuse or, say, having been bought up by an adult with a narcissistic parenting style, who used the child as a plaything to enact his or her own wishes and punished any attempts the child made to develop him or herself as distinct. These kind of childhood experiences – and a thousand others including sociocultural ones such as that of misogyny – leave the soul locked in a psychic tumble dryer desperate to get the cycle to stop but unsure how.

Psychiatric theories and treatments of BPD emphasise that escaping such pain is possible through restorative, healing, interpersonal experiences in psychotherapy, changing the landscape of one’s inner world. Treatment protocols emphasise that this takes time and skill given the need to establish something some theorists call “epistemic trust”. This is the capacity to feel safe enough to take in knowledge and experience new ways of relating to one’s therapist.

Establishing trust is a huge ask for most patients who have been damaged by others – be that patriarchal culture, parents or other figures of authority. I have yet, 25 years into my career, to meet any patient whose defences in relation to the other – be that dissociation, attacking, freezing, befriending or ridiculing – are not understandable. With the life histories most psychiatric people have, it is logical to presume these interactional patterns will continue and that the other, in this case psychiatric services, may harm, misrecognise or abuse the sufferer or find it impossible to bear them and disappear. Yet we punish psychiatric patients for these all too understandable reactions by giving them a label that enables others to carry on treating them like dirt, while doubling our blaming on patients for not willingly submitting with gratitude.

As I have written out before, the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder incurs what the philosopher Miranda Fricker called an “epistemic injustice“. With BPD, this means that the character of the speaker – the patient – is slurred and written over with the word “disorder” such as to affect how their speech and actions are interpreted. When survivors try to transmit this fact to staff, it is often considered to be “projection”. However, the literature here is clear as day and firmly on the side of survivors. Psychiatric staff demonstrably move away from and feel less emotionally connected with people who have been given this label.

It is paradoxical, surely, to expect patients to open themselves up to new, more trusting ways of relating to the other if the other proves themselves untrustworthy by only allowing access to such spaces via accepting an ideology that positions the patient as less credible as a speaker. Is it any wonder patients kick off when placed in such a double bind?

To move forward we must ensure as a first priority that mental health services are trustworthy. And to do this, we must listen to survivors who have been telling us for decades now that the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is an irreversible stain on the soul. Otherwise, how can we expect people to to trust us at all?

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Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths?

Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths? Labour, the SNP and Greens demand answers.

Has the DWP covered up its role in claimants’ deaths? Labour, the SNP and Greens demand answers.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing allegations of a “cover-up” over the deaths of welfare claimants, possibly linked to its controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The DWP: covering up its role in people’s deaths?

As the website Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating and documenting, the DWP is facing a possible scandal. Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and the Green Party are all demanding answers from the department. Green co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the situation had “all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up”.

It involves the DWP’s alleged failure to hand crucial evidence to the head of two independent reviews into the WCA. The missing evidence includes, according to DNS, two coroners’ reports that:

followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013… Each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Missing reviews

The WCA is the process the DWP uses to decide whether claimants are ‘fit-for-work’ and therefore entitled to certain benefits. It has been dogged by controversy; not least when a study by Oxford and Liverpool universities found that an “additional” 590 people taking their own lives was linked to the WCA process.

The DWP allegedly also failed to give Dr Paul Litchfield, who published reviews into the WCA in 2013 and 2014, its own internal peer reviews. These, as John Pring from DNS noted:

must be carried out by civil servants into every death ‘where suicide is associated with DWP activity’.

One of the aims of these reviews is to ‘determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved’, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

Both Labour and the Lib Dems told DNS they would be writing to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey over the matter. The SNP said it would be “seeking answers” from the department.

The DWP says…

The department told DNS:

As we’ve previously said, this was an independent review, and DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request.

Any evidence used was referenced in the review.

A “deliberate cover-up”

But the situation has left Bartley incensed. He told DNS:

If the [department] failed to show Dr Litchfield vital documents linking the [WCA] with the deaths of benefit claimants, [the] DWP are clearly implicated in a cover-up.

If he was shown them but didn’t mention them in his reports, then so was he.

This has all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up over the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.

Theresa May awarded Litchfield a CBE in June.

So, has the DWP intentionally covered up its involvement in claimants’ deaths? Currently, there are certainly more questions than answers.

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