Tag Archives: Universal Credit

The Staggering Cost Of One Man’s Delusions: £25 Billion Squandered On Bungled Welfare Reforms

iain-duncan-smithThe recent report from the Major Projects Authority, which revealed that Universal Credit is such a fucking disaster they had to invent a whole new category to describe it, also laid bare the astronomical cost of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.

Just under £11 billion is budgeted to be squandered on some of the DWP’s largest projects, and that figure doesn’t include Universal Credit.  The cost of this hare-brained experiment is shrouded in mystery now it has been classed as ‘reset’, but last year the Major Projects Authority reported that the bill would reach £12.8 billion.

Even this is far from the whole story.  Community Work Placements, the latest mass workfare scheme, will cost almost a third of a billion.  The costs of other Jobcentre schemes, such as Mandatory Work Activity, are not included in the above figures.  At the very least the budgeted costs of welfare reform exceed £25 billion pounds.  The true figure is likely to be much higher as reforms such as the Bedroom Tax unravel and start to cost the tax payer even more money.

The good news is that not all of this budget has been spent.  It had been assumed by the DWP that the Work Programme would actually help some people get jobs.  They thought wrong.  Such has been the dismal performance of the payment by results scheme that it is one of the few of Iain Duncan Smith’s pet projects that is actually running under budget.

The bad news is that this kind of crazed optimism has led to ludicrous spending projections in which IDS has decided his reforms will lead to the cost of Jobseeker’s Allowance falling by over a third by 2017.  This is likely to be because of all the new jobs that he thinks will be magically created by Universal Credit.  What it means is that there is a time bomb in the social security budget for whichever bunch of bastards manages to win the next election.

With all this money being thrown around to bully and harass claimants off benefits it might be expected that spending on social security would fall, especially as those benefits themselves have been subject to huge cuts.  This is not the case however and total spending on social security this year is forecast to be £10 billion higher than before the cuts began.  This figures includes pensions, but spending on unemployment benefits, housing benefits and tax credits has reached record levels under this Government.  Even spending on sickness benefits seems back on the rise despite Atos and the DWP’s attempt at curing people with endless assessments and workfare.  It turns out people are still getting sick.

It is genuinely astonishing that a Government obsessed with austerity has given a blank cheque-book to a fucking idiot like Iain Duncan Smith.  The real tragedy is that if some of this money had actually gone into to those who needed it then some of the worst impacts of the economic downturn could have been avoided.  Instead the opposite has happened.  The very poorest have been driven to destitution whilst billions has been shovelled into the pockets of grasping crooks in the welfare-to-work industry like A4e and G4S.

We are all paying the price of this reckless spending spree, and the social costs of child poverty, homelessness and despair that Iain Duncan Smith has spent billions creating will last for generations.  One day people will look back in horror that one man’s folly was allowed to run rampant through so many lives.  But for now the horror show continues unabated, and the financial cost is nothing compared to the tragedy of future’s destroyed and lives demolished.

To view the Major Project Authority report visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-government-major-projects-portfolio-data-2014

To see benefit expenditure and projections download the spreadsheet: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/310483/outturn-and-forecast-budget-2014.xls

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The Chilling Truth About Universal Credit: Bosses To Be The Gate-Keepers Of Benefits

lord-fraud-freudEmployers failing to provide tax information on time or going out of business could lead to vital in-work benefits going unpaid Lord Fraud confirmed in a speech this week.

When Universal Credit is finally introduced (stop laughing) it will replace almost all current in-work benefits including Child and Working Tax Credits, along with Housing Benefits.

Unlike the current system, benefit rates will be calculated monthly based on tax information sent to the DWP by employers.  This had led to concerns that if employers fail to send in PAYE information on time, or go out of business, then benefits will go unpaid or be paid at the wrong rate.  Lord Fraud confirmed that this would be the case in his speech this week when he said:

“the new PAYE in real time system has been designed to support Universal Credit payments. 99% of employers are now reporting their PAYE in real time every month. Not only does it prevent fraud, it ensures that every person who is in work on Universal Credit has their award automatically adjusted every month, based on these returns. So it’s absolutely crucial that you as employers report this accurately, as this will affect the payments of claimants.”

So should you have a dispute with your employer, or get the sack, then your boss will have the power to fuck up your claim for benefits.  For those with the most unscrupulous employers the implications are terrifying. Join a union, or complain about working conditions, and your employer will soon be able to stop your Housing Benefit and make you homeless.

Not to worry though because Lord Fraud suggested that under Universal Credit people could have multiple zero hours contracts instead of real jobs.  According to the minister these kind of contracts: “support business flexibility, they provide entry to work for young people and give people the flexibility to combine work with other commitments”.

In-work conditionality rules under Universal Credit will mean part-time workers face Jobcentre harassment and benefit sanctions to force them to constantly look for a better paid job or more work elsewhere.  They could even be sent on workfare in the hours they aren’t working.  This would make accepting many zero hours contracts – which require staff to be available for work at any time and at short notice – impossible for claimants.  Lord Fraud’s answer to this particular fuck up – which could see people sanctioned for failing to apply for a zero hours position, and then sanctioned again when they get the job and can no longer meet their claimant commitment – is that people can have more than one zero hours contract.  Which of course doesn’t solve anything, but Lord Fraud is hoping no-one notices.

The real reason for Universal Credit, which is to create a flexible, casualised workforce, was at the heart of Lord Fraud’s speech this week.  The new system will make it “easier to recruit – particularly when it comes to part time positions or for temporary work” and allow employers to find “more people willing to take on irregular work”.

Universal Credit is a blueprint for exploitation, forcing all low paid employees into a desperate competition for worst kind of insecure, casual work.  Step out of line for a second, and you will be sanctioned and face absolute destitution.  Despite the endless propaganda, this is not just an attack on those out of work, it is an attack on everyone’s pay and conditions.  As Lord Fraud’s speech confirmed this week, this is welfare reform designed to help your boss, not you.

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Bodged Government Spam Site to be at the Heart of Benefit Reforms

Universal-creditDWP documents confirm that the Universal Jobmatch website, the government job search site plagued by spam, scams and spoof vacancies, will be at the heart of the new conditionality for claiming benefits.

Lord Fraud’s recent begging letter to local councils asking for help with the Universal Credit shambles reveals the first scant details of how the new benefit system may (or may not) work in practice.

The document features a “claimant’s journey” which details how people will access the new benefit.  Claimants, many of whom will have never used a computer or don’t have access to broadband, will first need to open an online Universal Credit account.  It is anticipated many people may have to attend some form of training or support from local authorities or other agencies to learn how to make an initial claim.

Claimants will then be expected to provide the necessary documents for the claim, such as proof of identity, information on sickness or disabilities, details of children and any income or savings.  This is also likely to include the vast reams of evidence required to claim Housing Benefits, such as Tenancy Agreements and in some cases even bank statements.  It has not been explained how claimants will be expected to provide this information, but it sounds like another trip to the Jobcentre.

After the claim has been submitted claimants will be scheduled to an interview.  At this interview they will lectured on what they need to do to look for work and be “made aware of the support available to them including Universal Jobmatch”.

Only then will a decision on a Universal Credit claim be made.  This is Lord Fraud’s idea of simplifying the benefit system, by moving:  “claimants towards self service and automation and away from face to face delivery”.

universal-jobmatchThe document also gives information on what will be expected of claimants to maintain a claim.  This gives the clearest indication yet that DWP snooping via the bodged Universal Jobmatch website will be at the heart of the new benefits regime. Lord Fraud’s currently non-existent advisors are encouraged to:

“Ensure claimants are aware their obligations in receiving UC eg to look for work, and of all the support available to them to assist them in finding work including helping them to set up a jobmatch account and create a CV/sign up for job matching”

When Universal Credit is launched, five million people will face the same job-seeking conditions as those currently on unemployment benefits.

Part time or low income self-employed workers will be expected to constantly look for ‘more or better paid work’.  There will be unprecedented powers for the DWP to force single parents and sick or disabled claimants into endless ‘job related activity’ – which could include workfare.

The only possible way the DWP can police this draconian regime is to spy on people’s job seeking activity via the Government jobs website, Universal Jobmatch,

It is currently not mandatory for claimants to register with Universal Jobmatch, although Iain Duncan Smith has said that it will become so at some point this year.  Even then however,  unless Iain Duncan Smith changes privacy laws, claimants will not have to give the DWP access to their accounts.  According to the department’s own figures, only around half of claimants so far have ticked the box which allows jobcentre staff to monitor use of the website.

It is believed that the DWP will attempt to subvert privacy and cookie laws by expecting people to use computers inside Jobcentres to look for work on the website.   These are Jobcentres and computers which will already be overwhelmed by people making initial Universal Credit claims and forwarding their monthly income details to the DWP.  It is also expected that unemployed claimants will still be expected to continue to sign on fortnightly as they do at the moment.

The upcoming chaos is hard to imagine, even for those who have followed the shambolic welfare reforms.  Imagine a busy Jobcentre, seeing three times the number of people than they do currently, many of whom will be seriously unwell, or have kids running round.  Then cram in your local civic centre or Housing Benefit office.

On top of that throw in a packed internet cafe full of people who in many cases have never used a computer.  Some of these people may have literacy difficulties, some may not be able to read or even speak English, some will have drug or alcohol problems, many will no doubt be furious due to missed payments or delays.

Lord Fraud, with his gilded toff’s existence, knows nothing of this world.  For the rest of us it is already all too familiar.  There is no mass recruitment planned at the DWP to deal with this extra workload.  Jobcentres and benefit offices are already creaking under the strain of recession.  Many of the agencies Lord Fraud expects to help so-called vulnerable people make claims for Universal Credit have closed due to cuts.

Many have expected the IT behind the new welfare system, which depends on the largest and most complex database ever constructed by a government, to be the main obstacle facing Universal Credit.  In truth, even if it works (stop laughing),  it is only the beginning of the DWP’s problems.

Read Lord Fraud begging local authorities for help at: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/uc-local-service-support-framework.pdf

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Food Stamps Abandoned … For Now

foodstampsThe bill to introduce a food stamps style scheme has been abandoned by the attention seeking wannabe spiv,  Alec Shelbrooke, who dreamed up the scheme.

Shelbrooke has attempted to make a name for himself by proposing all benefits should be paid on ‘smart cards’ with the Government having control over how claimants spent the money.

This ludicrous idea came despite Iain Duncan Smith’s insistence that all benefits be paid in cash on a monthly basis.  Both ideas are equally stupid.  Under Shelbrooke’s plans claimants would have been unable to access telephones, stationary, hair dressers, launderettes, and crucially internet access – making it not just impossible to look for work, but also use the new ‘digital by default’ benefits systems.  Under Iain Duncan Smith’s obsession with ‘direct payments’, even those with drug, alcohol or gambling problems will be given Housing Benefit – the payment which claimants can now have sent direct to landlords – in a monthly cash sum.

Shelbrooke’s bill was due for its second reading in early March but has now been withdrawn by the MP.  This follows revelations that Lord Fraud’s smart card and jam jar schemes for so called ‘vulnerable’ claimants have also been abandoned.

Whilst some local authorities are considering smart cards and vouchers for the soon to be scrapped Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants, it seems that any national roll out of a food stamps style scheme will not be happening this during Parliament at least.

The inept clowns at the DWP can barely manage to run a website or welfare to work scheme without fucking it up as publicly as possible.  The last thing Iain Duncan Smith needs is back-benchers like Shelbrooke trying to make a name for themselves by proposing a system that manages to be both the direct opposite of the Government’s current welfare policies, but is also equally shit.

Shelbrooke will now disappear back down the sewer he came from.  With any luck Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Fraud and the skiving Employment Minister Mark Hoban, will not be far behind.

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Has Lord Fraud Bungled the Universal Credit Launch?

lord-fraud-freudEvidence is emerging that a vital component of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms -  intended to protect vulnerable tenants and social landlords alike – has been bungled by Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud.

The ‘financial products’ which Lord Fraud promised would support low income tenants with budgeting when the new payment structure is introduced don’t appear to actually exist.

To much fanfare Lord Fraud announced last September that private companies were being invited to create ‘financial products’ to help claimants manage their money under the new regime.  A tender was issued which astonishingly revealed that claimants were to be charged for this service and also seemed to include a possible entry point for High Street loan sharks to trap claimants in debt.

The successful bidders were supposed to be announced last December.  They weren’t and no explanation was ever given why.  The only clue as to what’s actually going on comes from allpay.net, a company eager to get their greedy hands on some tax payers cash via the welfare reforms.

According to them“allpay was one of a number of financial providers that attended the DWP’s procurement day and had been expecting the DWP tender in November. However, following a revised timetable for the procurement, allpay is not expecting to be updated on the DWP’s position until January. The department has also warned suppliers not to expect a tender in either January or February.”

Universal Credit is due to be begin in April, which means that the protection for so called vulnerable claimants that Lord Fraud has long promised, will not be ready for the launch.

This may come as a shock to Social Housing providers who have repeatedly warned that they anticipate losing millions due to the change in the way benefits are paid.  This will create a homelessness double whammy as more tenants are evicted for rent arrears, and social housing providers have less money to build new houses.

When Universal Credit begins in April this year, claimants will receive payments monthly as opposed to fortnightly or weekly as most do now.  Housing Benefit payments, which many claimants currently have paid direct to landlords, will in future be paid to tenants.

This has led to concerns from Social Housing providers that many tenants – already struggling under the tsunami of cuts – will find it difficult to balance budgets and are likely to slip into rent arrears.  A series of pilots of the new payments system has revealed these fears to be well founded, with rent arrears doubling in areas where the new system was trialled.

Up until recently Lord Fraud’s new ‘financial products’ were the answer to all these problems as he claimed:  “Accounts that provide people with extra budgeting services could help to ensure people’s essential bills are covered – helping them to build up their credit rating and break the cycle of financial exclusion.

“We are anticipating the call for new financial products may open up a new market place, where competition is strong.”

In a downbeat speech this week Lord Fraud did not even mention the bodged procurement, instead garbling:  “we recognise that there will always be some hard cases. Where this is the case vulnerable claimants could be made an exception to the payment rules for a period of time. Budgeting support will also be made available to support these individuals so that they can make a successful transition over time to the Universal Credit standard monthly payment.”

Not for the first time, it sounds like he’s making it up as he goes along and his ‘financial products’ seem long since forgotten.

Lord Fraud hasn’t been given much to do when it comes to the nitty gritty of welfare reform.  Iain Duncan Smith may be stupid, but he’s clever enough to know that all the old fraud is good for is standing round looking posh.

But these financial products were his chance to show that he isn’t just some comedy toff with a pervy grandad. And he fucked it up.  The truth is the Minister for Welfare Reform couldn’t run a bath without flooding out the building and getting his knob stuck in the plug hole.

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Mark Hoban Begs For Help With Floundering Welfare Reform

mark-hoban-scroungerSkiving Employment Minister Mark Hoban resorted to begging the corporate sector for new ideas to harass benefit claimants in his speech to the Policy Exchange this week.

In a rare appearance,  Hoban tried to do butch and turned his attention to self employed and part time workers.  When Universal Credit is launched these workers will be forced to continually look for ‘more or better paid’ work as a condition of receiving in work benefits.  Over a million people are set to be affected by the change, which could mean part time workers forced to leave jobs to take up temporary positions, or self employed people forced to turn down work to attend workfare.

Single parents, sick and disabled people are also to be forced into endless job searching meaning already over-stretched Jobcentre staff could see workloads almost tripled.  With no large scale recruitment at the DWP on the cards, many have asked whether this kind of mass state intrusion is even possible.

Universal Jobmatch was one answer, the online job seeking site recently set up at the cost of millions.  Unfortunately Monster Jobs – who designed the site – pulled a fast one on bungling Iain Duncan Smith and it’s rubbish and probably illegal.

With computers proving too complicated for DWP Ministers, Hoban’s latest crazy scheme is to police the ‘toughest ever’ benefit conditionality regime by the medium of text.

Plans have been announced to taunt part time workers with texts, informing them of the astounding fact that if they got a full time job they’d have more money.   For the millions already desperate to increase hours this senseless provocation will be accompanied by a monthly letter, telling them the same thing.  There will even be an online calculator, just like there is now, so claimants can work out that if they earn more money then they will have more money.

Lord Fraud is even going round bull-shitting that these magical texts will somehow create 300,000 new jobs!

With Universal Credit descending into a shambles, the DWP are looking desperate for ideas.  So much so that Hoban and Lord Fraud have launched a consultation begging for help from charities and the welfare to work sector.

Hoban obviously isn’t interested in doing any actual work himself.  If this week’s speech is the best he can come up with, then it’s probably best for the entire country that he goes back to his bed and draws the curtains.

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Universal Credit Needs Universal Jobmatch – So Do Not Tick The Box

universal_jobmatch-spyUPDATE 27/2/13:  Registering an account with Universal Jobmatch will  become mandatory from the beginning of March 2013.  There should still be no requirement to tick the box giving DWP access to your account.  For the latest details and what this means for claimants keep an eye on:  http://consent.me.uk/2013/02/26/mandatory/

UPDATE: The latest news (as of 20/01/13) and confirmation from the PCS Union that Universal Jobmatch is not yet mandatory.

From this month hapless Iain Duncan Smith has warned that unemployed claimants who refuse to sign up for the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch website may face having benefits sanctioned.

This is contrary to the information given late last year when the DWP confirmed that signing up to the site is not mandatory.  It’s almost as if the DWP is trying to catch people out in order to trick people off benefits.

Already the website has been plagued by fake jobs, spam, sex work and scammers.  The lax verification procedures for employers wishing to advertise vacancies leaves users at risk of having their personal details accessible to any old crook or pervert.  Many people have reported problems registering or even logging into the site, meaning even those who want to use it could find themselves unable to.  If the number of google referrals to this blog from people searching phrases such as ‘Universal Jobmatch can’t log in’ is anything to go by then it seems the sites technical problems are far from over.

When Universal Credit is introduced next year millions more people will be expected to prove to the DWP that they are seeking ‘more or better paid’ work.  Part time workers, disabled people, parents and self-employed workers on low incomes will all be placed under ‘work related activity’ conditions which now only apply to those on Jobseeker’s Allowance.  Those who Jobcentre staff decide aren’t trying hard enough to find work could face workfare or sanctions.

With the Jobcentres all running at full capacity – and no signs of any large scale recruitment on the horizon – then the only way this can be policed is by forcing claimants to use the Government’s own shit job search website.  The DWP are attempting to bully claimants on the cheap.

Luckily however there is no legal way that the Jobcentre can force you to allow them to access to monitor your activity on the site.  When claimants are asked to register with the site they are given the option of ticking a box which provides consent for Jobcentre snoops to monitor their use of the website.

It is vital that all claimants are made aware that they do not have to tick this box.  This means a concerted effort on behalf of everyone concerned about the endless abuse of those on benefits to inform everybody of their rights.  Spread the word to every Jobcentre in the UK.

There is also no legal requirement for claimants to accept cookies (the small computer programmes which allow the DWP to track usage of the site) on their own home computers.  If people don’t accept cookies then Universal Jobmatch won’t work.  This means that if you have a PC at home you cannot be forced to use it to look for jobs on the new website.

If enough people refuse to allow the Jobcentre to snoop on their accounts then the ‘work related activity’ that underpins Universal Credit won’t work.

Whilst IDS has threatened to haul claimants into the Jobcentre everyday if they refuse give the DWP access to their accounts, this is little more than an empty threat.  Harassing claimants face to face costs money., which is one thing the DWP don’t have

It is possible to use the site to look for jobs without logging in or even having an account for those who wish to.  The truth is there are far better places to look for work then Universal Jobmatch where the vast majority of jobs are self-employed sales jobs, employment agencies trawling for CVs,or zero hour contracts.

It is a shocking state of affairs that Iain Duncan Smith is forcing claimants to waste their time looking for jobs on a crap website with barely any vacancies just because he’s too arrogant to admit he just spent nearly £20 million quid on a piece of shit.

Once again welfare reform is not being driven by trying to genuinely help people find work.  In fact quite the opposite is happening.  Iain Duncan Smith is so obsessed with benefit claimants jumping through the endless hoops he sets that he no longer seems to care whether any of it will help people find a job.  This is all about one arrogant man who has decided that he knows better than anyone else how unemployed people should look for work.

If that means benefit claimants pointlessly clicking away at a website just to meet the conditions for claiming benefits – when they could be out looking for work properly – then Iain Duncan Smith will consider his job well done.  All he cares about is that people do what he tells them to.  It would be embarrassing if it were a boss, teacher or parent acting that way, for a Secretary of State it’s little more than pathetic.

UPDATE: via @refuted on twitter – Registering for Universal Jobmatch is not yet mandatory according to DWP.  Despite this stories persist of sanctions and threats of sanctions, print out this FOI request and take it with you next time you sign up if you are concerned about being forced to register: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/140693/response/347764/attach/html/3/FOI%204776%20Response%20PDF.pdf.html

In case of sanctions/threats of sanctions the PCS Union advise claimants to speak to Jobcentre Managers and if you can find out who they are, PCS reps.

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Empty Threats and Tantrums Are All Iain Duncan Smith Has Left In Universal Jobmatch Fiasco

IDSIain Duncan Smith has resorted to increasingly bizarre and empty threats in an effort to defend the shambolic Universal Jobmatch website.

The new job seeking website, which has been plagued by spam, scam and spoof jobs since its launch last month, has the facility for Jobcentre staff to remotely monitor how claimants are using the site.  Whilst the DWP is to force everyone on Job Seekers Allowance to register with the site in the New Year, they cannot legally compel claimants to tick the box giving advisors the right to snoop on their activity.

This obvious oversight in the construction of the new regime has led to yet more tantrums from Iain Duncan Smith.  Speaking to The Metro shortly before Christmas IDS appeared to suggest that claimants who do not allow Jobcentre staff to snoop on their online job seeking activity could face being hauled into Jobcentres on a daily basis.

When Universal Credit is introduced next year 5 million people will be expected to constantly look for ‘more or better paid’ work as a condition of keeping in-work benefits.  Those who are judged not trying hard enough to find jobs may have benefits sanctioned, or be forced into workfare.  The enforcement of this job seeking activity is to be ‘digital by default’ – suggesting that in the near future part time workers, sick or disabled claimants and self-employed people forced out of business due to Universal Credit, will all be required to sign up to Universal Jobmatch.

Even if just one in five of those claimants refuse to allow the Jobcentre access to their account, this this would mean around a million people hauled into Jobcentres every day.  Currently Jobcentres are running at full capacity, seeing around one and a half million people, mostly once a fortnight.  Far from being digital by default, if Iain Duncan Smith’s threats are implemented then the launch of Universal Credit will need to recruit tens of thousands of new public sector workers.

Since this isn’t on the cards anytime soon Iain Duncan Smith’s words should be greeted with the mocking contempt they deserve.  There is no legal requirement to tick the box granting the Jobcentre the right to snoop on your account and no way that the DWP can force you to accept cookies on a home computer.

Of perhaps most concern is Iain Duncan Smith’s attempts to threaten claimants with harassment should they exercise their basic legal rights.  This is a clear attempt to undermine the principle of equality under the law.  If the Secretary of State gets his way then one law for the rich and another for the poor will be firmly enshrined in DWP policy.

One person seems to have spotted that the DWP may be monitoring more than just activity on Universal Jobmatch but also attempting to monitor use of other websites.  Keep an eye on the following Freedom of Information request: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/information_returned_from_cookie/new

The Information Commissioner’s Office, who monitor data protection laws, provide guidance on some of the relevant laws surrounding Universal Jobmatch’s use of cookies, the small computer programmes that allow tracking of users activity on the site. 

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Will Welfare Reform Collapse Due to IDS’s Blundering?

welfare-reform-bannerSome much needed Christmas good news has come from the DWP of all places with the announcement that next year’s benefit cap is to be delayed for up to six months in most parts of the UK.

The cap, which restricts benefit levels regardless of how big a claimant’s family is, or the soaring costs of renting, will threaten thousands of children with homelessness at a stroke.  Whilst the announcement is only a delay, it does at least give those whose lives are about to be plunged into government inflicted chaos, a little longer to prepare for the onslaught.

The cap will sadly still go ahead in Enfield, Croydon, Haringey and Bromley, three London boroughs already suffering rising homelessness.

The hold up, according to The Guardian, is due to concerns about computer software.  It’s seems more likely that the practical administration of co-ordinating cuts to housing benefit – currently processed by local councils – and other benefits, some of which are paid by the DWP, and some by HMRC, has not been adequately thought through.

Once again another of Iain Duncan Smith’s crazy schemes had fallen at the first hurdle because the Secretary of State doesn’t understand the benefits system he’s reforming.

This announcement follows the  Universal Jobmatch shambles.  IDS is believed to have paid Monster Jobs approaching £20 million for the bodged website that he’s now having to pretend is great.

As anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the internet could have warned him, with no safeguards in place, the website has become a target for scammers, spammers and spoof vacancies.

IDS announced recently that it will be mandatory for those on Jobseekers Allowance to sign up to the website in the New Year.  However there will be no requirement for claimants to tick the box giving Jobcentre staff access to snoop on their account, so don’t!

The website uses cookies, small computer programmes which track how a website is used.  Under recent laws, it is not legal for a website to force anyone to use cookies if they don’t want.  If you refuse to accept cookies then Universal Jobmatch doesn’t work. This means that whilst the Jobcentre can force you to sign up to the website, they can’t force you to use it, or monitor if you do.

A piece of legislation that Iain Duncan Smith was either was unaware of, or chose to ignore, has put a digital spanner in the works of the endless jobseeking activity to be expected of all claimants when Universal Credit is launched.

Many people wondered how the DWP would have the manpower to police the new regime.  Disabled people, parents, part time and self employed workers, will all now be expected to search for more, or better paid work, as a condition of receiving benefits.  Universal Jobmatch was the answer.  And they’ve fucked it up.

Building a basic website, and introducing a benefit cap, are far from the most difficult challenges facing Universal Credit, which involves the construction of the largest government IT database ever created anywhere in the history of the world.

You might even call them the basics.  The ongoing shambles won’t protect many claimants from having lives thrown into chaos by the incompetence of the DWP.  But there remains at least a chink of hope that this ineptness will ultimately mean the collapse of Iain Duncan Smith’s precious Welfare Reform Bill.

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What Is Homelessness And Why Does It Happen?

HomelessWhilst people on the streets are one of the most visible signs of homelessness, the problem extends far beyond rough sleeping.  The majority of homeless people live in hostels, night shelters or B&Bs, but the impact of being without a home is still devastating.

Hostels and B&Bs provide relief in a crisis, and can be both the first step towards a solution, but also the first fall towards the streets.  The accommodation is insecure, short term and hugely expensive.  For single people it can mean sharing a room with strangers whilst parents are forced to share with their children.  In particular private sector temporary accommodation is often dangerous, damp, dirty and unmaintained.

Some hostels and night shelters are ‘direct access’ where most residents were formally living on the streets and have been identified by charity outreach workers.  These hostels have strict rules, sometimes not allowing access to the premises in the day time, with bed spaces being lost should a resident sleep elsewhere for the night.  Many long term street homeless people find adapting to such a regulated environment difficult, whilst others find the atmosphere, where drugs and heavy drinking are  commonplace (though usually banned), intimidating and frightening.

After a period which can be several weeks but sometimes months, most people are referred to longer stay hostels whilst waiting to be moved to some form of more sustainable accommodation – usually a council or housing association flat or bedsit.  Residents can be in long stay hostels for anything from six months to a couple of years.   Generally residents have their own rooms, albeit often little larger than a single bed.  Meals are sometimes provided and any facilities are shared.   Overnight guests, or even guests full stop, are often banned.  Homeless people aren’t allowed to have relationships.

Those in temporary accommodation, whether long stay hostels or B&Bs, have ‘licence agreements’ rather than tenancies.  This is more similar to the type of contract entered into when using a hotel and means immediate eviction should someone fall foul of the rules.

Temporary accommodation charges eye watering rents which are covered by housing benefits.  This makes it very difficult for those in long stay hostels to work.  Residents also pay a service charge out of their benefits to cover the costs of heat, light and water as well as food if available.  Service charge arrears result in eviction.

A final large group of homeless people are the so called ‘hidden homeless’.  People sleeping on a friend’s sofa, staying with family or squatting.  Other people live in a vehicles – whether on the side of a road or on a traveller site, some pitch a tent away from view, many sleep in derelict properties or abandoned garages.  This is often the first stage of homelessness as precarious accommodation collapses and people are left with nowhere to go but the streets.

Local authorities only have a duty to help those with children or who are ‘vulnerable’ which in practice usually means someone with a severe disability or those above pension age.   To qualify for help a homeless applicant must also have a connection with the local areas and not be judged ‘intentionally homeless’.  Families who are deemed ‘intentionally homeless’, having given up a property for some reason, or in some cases been evicted for arrears, may be told that the council will take the children into care but the parents can fend for themselves.  With huge strains on the amount of emergency accommodation available, most local authorities will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid helping anyone.

It has long been the fashion, amongst governments and homelessness charities alike, to insist that homelessness is something caused by people, personalities and individual behavior.  They point to some homeless people abusing drugs or alcohol, failing to find work, committing crimes and, worst of all, not doing what charity workers tell them to do.  But many homeless people are just poor and have run into bad luck, although it is hard to stay a perfectly productive member of society when your world has collapsed around you.  Homelessness drives more people to drink than the other way round.

One factor unites all of the experiences of homeless people and that is a lack of money.  Whatever other difficulties someone is facing there will always be a point on the journey to the streets where homelessness is a purely economic matter.

It could be an eviction or repossession, or someone unable to afford a deposit on a property or not able to pay for a cheap B&B for the night.  This is why the tsunami of cuts to welfare, and in particular housing benefits, will send homelessness soaring.  Because when people need that kind of help most, when life has taken a terrible turn, to strip away payments available for housing will mean the fall to rock bottom is assured.  People in desperate circumstances are not incentivised by having less money.  They are demolished.

Everybody knows that when people are under great pressure they do not always act rationally or in their own interests.  It is sheer bad luck that sometimes unfortunate and devastating events can happen in quick succession.  Desperate people do desperate things.  When a relationship breaks down, sometimes people turn to drink.  This can lead to problems at work and even dismissal, followed by depression and heavier drinking.  Benefits are unavailable due to being sacked.  Rent goes unpaid, friendships deteriorate, support networks dismantle.  Homelessness follows and it’s hard to sleep on a pavement sober.

None of this is unusual or outside of the realm of normal human behaviour.  It is called a downward spiral and it can happen in a million different ways to anyone.  There are former successful business people living on the streets of London right now, whilst the vast majority of homeless people had stable, fulfilling lives at some point.

It is only at the very bottom of this decline, that if you are lucky, the state might just step in and offer to try fix the problems they helped create.  And so begins a climb back through the system of night shelters, hostels and temporary accommodation that can take years.  One small slip along the way, breaching hostel or benefit rules, and it’s back to the bottom.

Homelessness has many contributing factors and subsequent effects, but remains at heart an economic problem.  That’s why, even before the cuts, a stagnating economy was causing homelessness to rise. The number of people without a home is set to soar due to a toxic combination of cuts, rent rises, wage or benefit freezes and law changes.  Every single one of those people will have a tragic story, and all too often one that begins with a letter from the DWP telling them that their housing benefit is being cut.