Category Archives: DWP

RIP Julia Kelly: Another Tragic Suicide After DWP Threats

julie-kelly1A woman who founded a charity to help people suffering with chronic pain committed suicide after a battle to claim disability benefits ended with the DWP demanding that she repay £4000 in backdated payments.

Julia Kelly was just 39 when she took ker own life at the end of last year.  In an  inquest into her death the Northampton Chronicle reported that the coronor believed the “upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life.”

According to a statement made by her father at the inquest, Ms Kelly had attended three tribunals in her attempts to gain disability benefits.  Mr Kelly said he “firmly believed” correspondance from the DWP triggered her death adding:

“Not to be believed by the DWP that she was suffering chronic back pain and also to be accused of wrongdoing and be told her payments might be stopped – we believe she snapped and could not take it any more.”

Despite this the DWP made a nasty statement which attempts to suggest she had thousands of pounds and was therefore not eligible for out of work disability benefits.  According to a spokesperson for the department “If a claimant exceeds the threshold with thousands of pounds in savings, they may no longer be entitled to the benefit.”  It would not take three tribunals to establish how much someone had in savings.   There is far more to this than the DWP are suggesting.

The news of the inquest into her death comes on the same day that Iain Duncan Smith said that stopping people’s benefit is ‘compassionate’.

The charity founded by Julia Kelly, which her father has said he will continue, can be found at: http://www.awaywithpain.co.uk/  Please support them if you can, they are also on twitter @awaywithpain

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Are The DWP Following Their Own Safeguarding Rules When They Sanction Sick and Disabled Claimant’s Benefits?

sanction-sabs1People with a mental health condition claiming out of work sickness benefits may have had their benefits wrongly sanctioned due to the DWP not carrying out correct ‘safeguarding’ procedures.

Over 100,000 sick and disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance have had their benefits stopped or reduced for not carrying some form of ‘work related activity’.  A report released recently by the Methodist Church found that around 100 people a day with a mental health problems are currently having their benefits sanctioned in this way.  There is growing concern however that many of these sanctions could have been incorrectly applied due to the DWP failing to carry out home visits to assess the impact on the claimant of stopping their only source of income.

The Jobcentre guidelines are clear“If a claimant has a condition that could affect their ability to understand and comply with conditionality, a Core Visit to their home must be arranged before any sanction decision is considered. “

According to the DWP these visits should be carried out before sanctioning anybody with a “mental health condition or learning difficulties, or conditions affecting cognition such as stroke, autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder that might affect their understanding of mandatory interview requirements and the consequences of failing to comply.”

The guidelines state that two attempts must be made to visit the claimant at home and if contact is not made then “every attempt must be made to ensure the claimant’s welfare … the HEO must attempt to contact the following sources to establish the claimant’s welfare: Claimant’s Appointee/POA/next of kin, 
Claimant’s Community Psychiatric Nurse, Social Services, Police.”

These rules only apply to people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and there is reams of anecdotal evidence that they are being flagrantly ignored.  One reason for this could be because the guidance is only published in internal Jobcentre documents and not routinely made available to the general public or their advocates.  Were it not for a Freedom of Information request then this information would probably have never seen the light of day.

If you are an ESA claimant with a mental health problem and you were sanctioned without these guidelines being followed then this may be a legitimate reason to have the sanction overturned. According to Disability Rights UK, who have called for the little known rules to be extended to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, “If the DWP stop benefit for a customer without applying Mental Health Safeguards then, according to the guidance, they must reinstate benefit.  If the DWP do not have information about the customer’s mental health at the time that they stop benefit but later receive this information then they must reinstate benefit.”

Let’s make sure everyone knows about this, the safeguarding guidelines start from paragraph 95 in this document (pdf).

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The Work Capability Assessment Is About To Get Worse, Less People To Be Placed In Support Group Say DWP

wca-review5

Recommendations made by Paul Litchfield in the latest review into the Work Capability Assessment

More sick and disabled people will face sanctions and workfare when Maximus take over running running the despised assessments for sickness benefits say the DWP who have promised the number of people placed in the Support Group is expected to fall.

The department’s comments come in their response to the latest review into the Work Capability Assessment, the shoddy computer based test used to find sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’ and stop their benefits.  Sinister US based outsourcing firm Maximus will take over the assessments from next week after ferocious campaigning by disabled people and benefit claimants led to the notorious Atos ending their involvement with the tests early.

The most recent review was carried out by Paul Litchfield, presumably in his spare time as he is also Chief Medical Officer at BT.  Cutting sick and disabled people’s benefits and driving them into poverty is more of a hobby for this bastard.  Litchfield is very concerned that the number of people placed in the Support Group after an assessment has been on the rise and says this should be urgently examined.  Claimants in this group are those even the DWP agree are too unwell to work and who do not have to jump through endless hoops to prove they are looking for or preparing for work.  It is the only group of claimants who cannot be sent on mandated workfare or have their benefits sanctioned for missing a meeting at the Jobcentre.  Litchfield thinks there are too many of them, and is particularly worried about the number of young people languishing about in homes and hospitals with serious health conditions when they could be stacking shelves in ASDA for no pay on workfare schemes – or work related activity as he calls it.

As Litchfield will know however, young people, or those of any age in the Support Group, are able to access the Work Programme if they choose.  If many of them do not then that says more about the bungled scheme than it does about sick and disabled claimants.  The Work Programme is shit. That’s why no-one volunteers for it.

Another of Litchfield’s worries is the use of regulation 35 (2) (b).  This rule means that people can be placed in the Support Group automatically if there is “substantial risk” to their mental or physical health if they are found fit for work.  This can be done without a face to face assessment and is frequently used – often on the advice of a GP or medical specialist – when a claimant demonstrates suicidal behavior or is at risk of self-harm.  Litchfield seems appalled that this group are not being harassed stringently enough by the DWP.  Nowhere does he mention the growing number of suicides linked to the Work Capability Assessment .  Perhaps he thinks there aren’t enough.

The DWP agree with Litchfield that the numbers in the Support Group are too high and in a frank admission say this is down to more paper based assessments being carried out due to chronic delays that have built up in the system.  According to the department: “Following transition to the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (Maximus) and restoration of the usual proportion of face-to-face assessments it is expected that the level of Support Group outcomes will decline.”

Litchfield must be so relieved to hear that even more sick and disabled claimants will soon be dependent on food banks after having their benefits sanctioned.  He won’t be the only one happy at the news.  Maximus would like to see as many people on the Work Programme as possible, because they fucking run huge chunks of that as well.  No wonder their greedy boss can afford to pay himself $5 million a year.

The Work Capability Assessment is set to get worse.  It is more vital than ever that it is scrapped completely.  Help make that happen this Monday 2nd March with the first national day of action against new contractors Maximus.  Protests, demonstrations and actions are planned in 30 locations throughout the UK and even one in Toronto!  Full details of the nearest protest to you are available in this handy post from Disabled People Against Cuts.  Please help spread the word and let’s make Maximus feel uncomfortable for a change.

maximus-circus

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How The DWP Bribed Employers To Break Age Discrimination Laws With A ‘Golden Ticket’ Worth £2,275

wage-incentive-goldenticketJobcentres bribed employers with ‘golden tickets’ worth up to £2,275 to hire young people over older workers despite warnings from lawyers that this Wage Incentive scheme was probably illegal.

Figures released this week show that over one hundred thousand ‘Wage Incentive’ payments were doled out to employers before the scheme was quietly abandoned last Summer.  These payments could be claimed from the DWP every time an employer recruited someone under 25 who had previously been on benefits.  An early evaluation of the scheme found that it was riddled with abuse, with employers making backdated claims for workers they had already hired, or even using Wage Incentives as a tax-payer funded rolling stock of temporary staff.  This report came alongside warning from the DWP’s own lawyers that companies who took these payments faced the risk of legal challenges under age discrimination laws from older workers denied jobs .

Despite these warnings Wage Incentives continued and by the time a second evaluation was published all mention of employers abusing the scheme had magically disappeared.  What this evaluation found however was the huge amount of pressure Jobcentre staff were being placed under to encourage employers to hire younger workers and claim Wage Incentives.  According to the report some staff felt that older claimants were disadvantaged by ‘persistent pressure’ to concentrate on Wage Incentive jobs and that targets set by the DWP were unfair.

Both evaluations found that ‘self-marketing’ Wage Incentives proved one of the most effective ways to sell the scheme to employers.  This included encouraging young people to add details of the potential bribe to their CVs, mention it at interviews, or present employers with a shoddily designed ‘golden ticket’ like the one pictured above.  According to one Jobcentre worker: “The line from employers is usually – if I see two candidates exactly the same and one is eligible and one is not, I’ll take the wage incentive candidate.” 

In other words employers would hire a younger worker over an older one purely because they were paid by the government to do so.  It is clear that this discriminates against older workers and it seems likely this is one of the reasons why Wage Incentives were quietly scrapped in August last year.

Amusingly the DWP are now pretending that Wage Incentives were only ever intended as a “temporary measure to encourage employers to offer sustained paid employment to young people during the recession”.  This is transparent bollocks.   There was never any intention that this scheme was temporary and it was introduced and stayed in effect long after the official period of recession.

The truth is that Wage Incentives were unfair, ineffective, hugely expensive and probably illegal.  But that’s all just business as usual at the DWP and not usually enough to cause one of Iain Duncan Smith’s crazy schemes to be brought to an end.  Yet significantly, even many grasping employers found Wage Incentives too much to stomach.  According to the recent evaluation one Jobcentre said:  “Some of our large and national employers won’t take wage incentive on because they don’t want bad or adverse publicity, if they think it looks like a bribe.”

Astonishingly the report says that in “one or two extreme cases, larger employers … were so opposed to the wage incentive that they would consider only recruiting candidates aged 25 and over” adding that “Other employers have said ‘it’s unethical, we don’t want to know about it”.

Don’t believe the fucking hype, employers have not suddenly turned into a bunch of hippies, they are just worried about their reputations.  If anything this shows the success that groups such as Boycott Workfare and claimants themselves have had in exposing the exploitation and naked profiteering at the heart of DWP backed schemes.  Everything the DWP try and do is toxic now.  Let’s make sure it stays that way.

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Money For Old Rope … How The Work Programme Poverty Profiteers Are Fleecing The Tax Payer

Former A4e boss Emma Harrison made millions out of the welfare-to-work scam before retiring just as the company became mired in fraud allegations.

Former A4e boss Emma Harrison made millions out of the welfare-to-work scam before retiring just as the company became mired in fraud allegations.

If there is one place that a culture of worklessness really does exist it’s in the offices of the companies running Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme.  Some welfare-to-work advisors have been languishing on tax-payer funded salaries for years whilst barely lifting a finger.

Last week the DWP published an update of the Minimum Service Delivery standards for all of the main Work Programme providers.  These are the very basic levels of service that everybody referred to these companies can expect to receive as promised in their contracts with the DWP.  As the document reveals, you shouldn’t expect too much.

Appallingly a claimant on Employment Support Allowance can expect to wait eight weeks before Maximus will be bothered to help them produce a CV.  Those placed with the notorious A4e will only have contact with a named advisor once a month, whilst the most other providers are offering is just fortnightly meetings.  At these meetings participants are likely to be given a string of conditions they must meet, which might include workfare, or they will have their benefits stopped.  Then they’ll be politely asked to fuck off for another fortnight.  And that’s the Work Programme.  That’s the wonderful, flexible, intensive, tailored to the individual, innovative, half-arsed piece of shit that bungling Iain Duncan Smith has so far wasted close to a billion pounds of our money on.  And that’s why the performance of the scheme has been so dire and you are more likely to have your benefit sanctioned than find a job on the Work Programme.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this of course.  Whilst Work Programme providers were initially paid a small fee for every participant, this has been gradually reduced.  The bulk of the funding comes from those who find work – with payments of up to £13,000 should claimants from some groups find and stay in a job.  This payments-by-results funding model was intended to ensure that whilst these companies are free to do as little as they choose to help people find jobs, if they are not successful they won’t get paid.

The problem with this model is that people get jobs under their own steam every single day.  The welfare-to-work sector barely existed before Tony Blair launched the New Deal in 1997 yet for hundreds of years people had been managing to find jobs without any help at all from an A4e Work Coach.  What this means is that even if these companies do nothing at all they will still get paid as long as they can claim the credit for these people finding jobs.  It is a scam, and it always has been.

Since these companies are guaranteed a large chunk of tax payer’s cash whatever they do they have two choices.  Firstly they can target their resources at the so-called hardest to help, which means people with little work history, extensive criminal records or who face other problems such as homelessness or addiction.  This is expensive however and a big gamble.  Employers are not rushing out to hire street drinkers or those with a conviction for violence after all.  And even if they find someone from this group a job, if they lose it then the company will lose most of their job outcome fee.  That’s why Maximus, and their charitable partners the Careers Development Group, are using ‘expert volunteers‘ to provide help for those “identified as having substantial barriers to work”.  It’s much cheaper that way.

The second, and most profitable option for these companies is to do nothing at all.  The job outcome payments will roll in regardless, so they make their money by keeping expenditure to an absolute minimum.  Of course they can tinker round the edges.  They can bully someone into a shitty job when if that person had held out a bit longer they would have found themselves a better job in their usual field.  They can ensure that someone who is at college is forced to leave and take up minimum wage work rather than use a short period of unemployment to gain a qualification and further their career.  They can pressurise someone into becoming self-employed and claiming Working Tax Credits even if that self-employment is unlikely to result in any real income.  There’s lots of ways they can tinker round the edges and almost all of them involve fucking up someone’s life.

The tragedy is that all that money squandered on the Work Programme could have been so much better spent.  Imagine if you walked into a Jobcentre and they told you about a course you actually wanted to go on.  A course that would train you in a real job – to be a spark, a chef, a beauty therapist or IT programmer.  Imagine if you could pick up a fork lift truck licence, or even driving lessons.  Or find out about a community project providing genuine and interesting volunteering.  Or even just have access to a half decent computer, stamps, fares, a phone and stationary so you can get on and find a job yourself.

But even that is beyond the welfare-to-work sector who instead sit on their arses all day sanctioning people’s benefit claims because they were five minutes late to their monthly meeting.  And for that we pay them hundreds of millions of pounds and make their bosses very, very rich.

Join the Day of Action Against Maximus on March 2nd.

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No Statistics On Benefit Uptake Published In Five Years, What Have The DWP Got To Hide?

What the Institure for Fiscal Studies thought about scrapping statistics on benefit uptake rates

What the Institure for Fiscal Studies thought about scrapping statistics on benefit uptake rates

The DWP are trying to hide the truth about the collosal sums of benefits that go unclaimed by using endless statistical meddling as an excuse for no longer revealing this vital information.

Back in the days before the current government weren’t elected the DWP used to publish statistics on an annual basis showing the number of people who were eligible for a particular benefit but didn’t claim it.

The numbers were often used to embarrass the government by showing that far more people do not claim the benefits they are entitled to than falsely receive payments.  They showed for example, that in 2009/10 that the amount of  Jobseeker’s Allowance that went unclaimed was between £1.28 billion and £1.95 billion.  Housing Benefits were under-claimed by between £1.85 billion and £3.10 billion, whilst out of work sickness and disability benefits were under-claimed by anything from £0.75 billion up to £2.04 billion.

Unfortunately, these figures – which were published by the Tory administration but cover Labour’s last year in office – are the last we have.  In 2012, Iain Duncan Smith published a consultation on scrapping these statistics on the grounds that it would save some money and that no-one really cared anyway.  The response to the consultation was clear – some organisations cared very much indeed.  A host of think tanks, charities and academics condemned the plans and the DWP relented and agreed to continue publishing this information.  Or at least that’s what they said they would do.

Initially the department said they would publish the figures for 2010/11 and 2011/12 in February 2014 and then didn’t.  After four years of pretending to tinker with the statistical methods they were expected to finally publish the information this month.  But they aren’t doing that now either.  The latest news is that the statistics are “provisionally due to be published in May or June 2015″.  Which conveniently is after the general election.

So after five years of welfare reforms we will not know whether the brutal cuts have made any difference to the number of people who take up benefits.  We won’t find out whether sanctions and increased conditionality are driving people away from claiming unemployment benefits, or whether the vicious assessments for sickness and disability benefits are putting people off accessing the help they need when they are too ill to work.  We won’t know what the impact of Universal Credit has been, or the changes to Housing and Council Tax benefits.  We won’t know much very much at all, which is exactly what Iain Duncan Smith wants.  Anyone would think they’ve got something to hide.

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Looming Staffing Crisis In The NHS As Atos And Maximus Try To Steal All The Nurses

Hippocrates1Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal and bungled welfare reforms could be set to the plunge the NHS into chaos as nurses and doctors are paid huge sums to carry out benefit-slashing assessments instead of working in our chronically understaffed hospitals.

Last year the Royal College of Nusring warned that a lack of senior nurses in the NHS is putting patient care at risk.  This followed a report a year earlier from the Department of Health funded  Centre for Workplace Intelligence which found that the NHS will face a shortfall of 47,545 nurses by 2016.  It is not just Tory cost cutting set to cause this crisis in the NHS, but a lack of suitably qualified homegrown nurses.  Last year The Guardian reported that the shortage is already so acute that one in five nurses employed between 2013/14 had to be recruited from overseas.

US firm Maximus are the company brought in to replace Atos to carry out the notorious Work Capability Assessment, the crude computer based test designed to strip benefits from out of work sick and disabled people.  Every one of these assessments must be carried out by a qualified healthcare professional with at least two years clinical experience  In an attempt to meet their target of one million benefit assessments a year., the company are currently undertaking a huge recruitment exercise promising nurses the chance to “work within the exciting and challenging area of Disability Assessment”. What they mean is bastards wanted to cut people’s benefits by declaring them fit for work on the flimsiest of evidence. 

In an attempt to bribe healthcare workers to carry out this grubby malpractice, Maximus are offering a considerably better salary than similarly qualified nurses would be paid in the NHS.  A salary, it should be remembered, that is ultimately funded by the tax payer.  This government would rather pay healthcare workers to bully people off benefits rather than deal with the staffing crisis in the NHS.

Maximus are not the only ones who are desperately trying to lure qualified healthcare professionals away from the NHS.  Whilst the notorious Atos will soon no longer carry health tests for out of work benefits, they too are recruiting nurses and other healthcare professionals to carry out disability assessments for the new Personal Indepence Payments (PIP) – the replacement for Disability Living Allowance which pays for the costs of living with a disability such as care, transport or specialist equipment.  Alongside Capita, Atos will be responsible for implementing the Tory policy to strip this benefit from a fifth of disabled people.  Both Atos and Capita have large scale recruitment operations underway.  Atos also use paramedics to carry out PIP assessments.  Last year health bosses warned they are having to recruit paramedics from Poland due to a national shortage estimated to be around 3000.

It is unclear how many nurses and other healthcare professionals are currently working on DWP contracts to stop people’s benefits instead of in hospitals where they are so badly needed, but it is likely to run to several thousand.  Minister for Murdering Disabled People Mark Harper dodged the question of how many staff Maximus are planning to recruit when he appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee this week.  Every last one of these so-called healthcare professionals, which also includes doctors, is breaching the fundamental medical principle of first do no harm.  But with nurses in the NHS facing pay squeezes and increased workloads, there will always be some happy to throw medical ethics out of the window and use their talents to harm not heal.

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