Category Archives: Welfare Reform

Social Cleansing In London Is All Too Real, To Deny It Is Irresponsible

social-housingSome things need nippng in the bud.  So here’s a long and probably quite boring explanation of why Dave Hill’s recent claims in the Guardian that social cleansing is not taking place in London are a load of bollocks.

Hill based his recent piece on research carried out by the New Policy Institute think tank which examined the number of moves made by housing benefits claimants both within the capital and from London to other parts of the UK.  It found that the number of London claimants who moved house has changed little between 2010 and 2015.  As such the report’s authors conclude that housing benefit cuts have not caused the social cleansing of the city that many feared.

This led the Hill to declare that we should forget about social cleansing and instead focus on the poverty that has been caused by housing benefit cuts, saying that households had not been forced out of London but were staying put and making up rent shortfalls themselves.  To some extent this is true, many Londoners are now living in desperate poverty due to soaring rents and benefit cuts.  But to dismiss social cleansing, on the basis of this report, is a big mistake.

The first significant error in this research is that it examined all of those on housing benefit, not just those in the private sector.  Almost 70% of London housing benefit claimants are in social housing and unlikely to be subject to the benefit cap due to much lower rents.*  This means that large chunks of their data could be meaningless when analysing the impact of cuts on private sector tenants – and they don’t know which chunks.

There are many reasons why tenants might not move in such a brutal housing market.  With the number of London landlords who will accept those claiming housing benefits growing ever smaller, the sensible thing to do if you have found somewhere is to stay put.  Some social housing tenants may be hoping to buy eventually –  especially now that right-to-buy is being extended to Housing Association properties.  This could impact on the number of social housing transfers to outside the capital.  These factors would both offset any exodus due to benefit cuts.  But these assumptions, like the conclusions of the report, are speculation.

A further error in the research is that it treated claimants as one never-changing mass rather than examining flows on and off benefits.  This means that if someone comes off housing benefits as a result of moving to a cheaper area they will not be included in the figures. The report fails to show whether the number of private sector Housing Benefit claimants is falling or rising in any given area.  This leaves the question of whether people moving are being replaced by someone in similar economic circumstances.  You would expect this if the number of poor people was not decreasing overall as the researchers claim and you can find out by looking at the Housing Benefit caseload statistics.  They tell a very different story to the one told by the New Policy Institute.

The social cleansing of London did not begin when the Tory government first stole power in 2010.  Gentrification had already hollowed out much of inner London with both rents and house prices soaring even in once largely working class areas such as Hackney and Lambeth.  In more prosperous boroughs the eradication of the poor was almost complete except for those in social housing.  There were just 7,790 private sector Housing Benefit claimants in the City of Westminster in 2010 – and Westminster is big, with a population almost as large as Hull and with areas which would not have been described even as middle class a couple of decades ago.

According to the most recent figures, the number of Housing Benefit claimants in Westminster now stands at 5,001, a drop of over a third since 2010.  This trend is repeated throughout inner London – both the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Islington have also lost around a third of private sector housing benefit claimants. In Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham and Southwark the number has dropped by around 20%, whilst Lewisham, Lambeth, Wandsworth and Tower Hamlets have all seen over 10% of private sector housing benefit claimants disappear.  In the largely uninhabited City of London there were 100 private sector housing benefit claimants in 2010 and now there is only 20.  The only inner London borough during the period to see a rise in this claimant group was Newham, by far the poorest and the least central borough.  In total there are over 11,000 less private sector housing benefit claimants in inner London since 2010, and there weren’t many to start with.  In many ways the Benefit Cap was simply a mopping up exercise, driving out the hangers-on that gentrification hadn’t yet managed to displace.

Despite plummeting number of private rented sector claimants in inner London the reverse is taking place further afield.  Almost every outer London borough saw a rise in the number of private sector Housing Benefit claimants between 2010 and 2016, with only Waltham Forest, Merton and Richmond seeing a fall – and the last two are both posh.  The main reason for this is soaring rents and a huge rise in the number of people in work who are claiming Housing Benefit.  The overall number of Greater London Housing Benefit claimants, including social tenants, is higher now than in 2010 despite falling unemployment.  The overall number of inner London claimants has fallen however.

The trend is plain to see. The richer and more central a borough is, then the more likely it will have seen a drop in the number of private sector housing benefit claimants.  In outer boroughs the opposite is happening.  London’s poor are being displaced to the margins

In some boroughs, such as Westminster, the process of social cleansing is near complete for almost all those without social housing.  And for those clinging on the situation is chilling. Westminster spent around £3 million on Discretionary Housing Payments in 2014/15 specifically to mitigate the impact of the Benefit Cap.  Assuming an average award of £50 a week – and this is a guess, there are no available figures – that’s enough to pay for over 1,000 of Westminster’s dwindling private sector claimants to remain in their homes.  These are emergency payments, which can be withdrawn at any time, and will eventually stop.  These households have simply been given a stay of execution.

In addition to this Westminster has 2,435 households who are homeless and in temporary accommodation.  Around half of this number have been relocated outside the borough.  Those still in Westminster will be in some form of private accomodation, whether that’s a hostel, B&B or in a temporary placement with a private landlord.  They are also likely to be claiming Housing Benefit.  So of Westminster’s 5000 private sector Housng Benefit claimants up to a quarter could be homeless, and possibly another fifth are receiving Discretionary Housing Payments which will eventually be stopped.

The Benefit Cap is just one, very small part of what is driving social cleansing.  London’s failure to build enough social housing is also displacing the poor from the capital.  Despite a population increase across Greater London of almost half a million between 2010 and 2014, the number of new social houses was just 7,455.  Housing stock estimates from the Department of Communities and Local Government show that Islington, Camden, Kensington & Chelsea, Wesminster and the City of London have all seen a reduction in the number of socially rented homes since 2010.  As numerous campaigners around the capital will tell you, they are now coming for the housing estates as well.

It seems astonishing that there would be those who refute that London’s poor are being gradually forced out of the city when the evidence is so visible.  Take a walk round Hackney and you will see streets that have been not just socially, but also ethnically cleansed.  This is not to undermine the sufffering of those still living in the capital who have been forced into poverty and  destitution.  That is part of social cleansing too, as the poor are sliced out of civic, economic and social life, even if they manage to cling onto their homes.  Those that are left become as invisible as the departed.  With further benefit cuts on the way and the near eradication of social housing it is irresponsible, and just plain inaccurate to deny what is taking place.

*this post was corrected on 28/5/16 due to previously saying social housing tenants are exempt from the Benefit Cap.  This was a daft mistake, they are not exempt, but due to much lower rents in social housing then very few claimants are affected.  H/T  @nearlylegal who pointed it out.

Above pic from Turbulent London

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How Consent Has Been Manufactured For In Work Benefit Sanctions

frank-field-mp-008

Same old Labour, committee headed by Frank Field says DWP should be congratulated for in-work benefit sanctions.

There are many thing which could be done to tackle in-work poverty.  The most obvious being to raise in-work benefit levels.  Other measures such as rent caps or free public transport would make an immediate difference whilst longer term solutions could include a mass social house-building programme and the recreation of a militant trade union movement that was prepared to strike for better wages.  The restoration of student grants or free training in bankable qualifications that are currently only available at huge cost would also make a huge change in how people choose to develop their working lives.

More radical ideas might include the collectivisation of private (profit-making) property and a seizing of the wealth of the rich.  There’s plenty of stuff, and space, for everybody to live well.  The problem is some people are greedy and have too much.  There’s more of us than them.  We could just take it.  That’s what they did.

None of these ideas were mentioned in the recent inquiry by the Work and Pensions Commitee into ‘in-work progression’, the latest DWP initiative designed to force part time workers to constantly strive for more pay or more hours or face benefit sanctions.  From the radical to the mundane, these concepts are outside of current acceptable, neo-liberal conversation.  Even calling for a reverse to recent reforms such as the Bedroom Tax, or the restoration of full council tax benefit, have now slipped outside of the acceptable agenda.  Instead all solutions must be market based, individualised, and place the blame for poverty squarely at the feet of the poor.  And austerity and cutting government spending have now become aims in themselves, as if they were a moral force.

With a couple of exceptions, this ideology informs every single response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s recent inquiry.  This has allowed the committee’s final report to call the reforms potentially ‘revolutionary’.  Which they don’t mean in a good way.

The depressing truth is that consent had been manufactured invisibly before the committee even began, simply by the type of people they involved, and the narrow spectrum of beliefs they represent.  If you don’t share these views you will not become one of those people, the listened to people.  As such the submissions by Boycott Workfare, and even the PCS Union whose members will be expected to implement any changes, are completely ignored in the committee’s final report.    Instead it was the likes of Matthew Oakley who were called to give evidence in person, the chinless knobend who began his barely working life at the hard right Policy Exchange think tank.  Oakley has made a lucrative career out of pretending to be an independent expert whilst telling the government exactly what they want to hear.

Of course it helps that there was a financial incentive for most of those who responded to the consultation to support the DWP’s plans in the form of juicy government contracts to run the scheme.  And it does no harm that of the eleven people who sit on the Work and Pensions Commitee, six of them are Tories and one of the others is Frank fucking Field.  This is no doubt how they came to the appalling conclusion that the current government should be congratulated for these sweeping changes to the benefit’s system that will see low paid workers consigned to desperate poverty if they fail to meet the endless humiliating demands imposed on them by Jobcentres.  The committee even suggests that in-work progression could be extended to those further up the earnings scale, although it is unclear whether they support this on a voluntary or mandatory basis.  How to sanction people’s benefit when they aren’t on benefits is likely to prove a challenge.

There were two issues really that were being examined by the commission – that of in work ‘progression’ and also in work ‘conditionality’.  The first simply means mild harassment masquerading as help from Jobcentres or welfare to work companies to encourage claimants to look around for better paid work or be confident enough to ask for a pay rise.  Almost all of the organsations who responded said yes, we’d like some money to do that.  In-work conditionality however means benefit sanctions for not complying with demands placed on claimants to improve their earnings, which under current legislation could even include workfare or mandatory job search sessions in the hours people aren’t working.

This conditionality was rejected by some organisations who called for a purely voluntary scheme whilst many others warned that so-called vulnerable people should be excluded.  None of the responses were enthusiastic about sanctions, although one, from welfare-to-work company Prospects, did say they believed people should “not be allowed to settle for working only a few hours each week indefinitely”.  This was probably the most extreme statement out of all the responses to the committee and was duly included in the final report to help demonstrate ‘strong support’ for an ‘in-work service’.

A fair analysis of the evidence would be that there was support for a voluntary service, although it was not unanimous and largely came from organisations with a vested financial interest.  And there was opposition to and wide ranging concerns about sanctioning claimant’s benefit for non-compliance.  The committee’s report acknowledges some of these concerns and even agrees that inflicting a financial penalty on someone could, in some cases, work against the aim to increase their earnings.   But even this doesn’t mean they oppose sanctions.  In conclusion the report merely calls for people to be sanctioned less often than those currently on unemployment benefits.

The DWP’s attitude to sanctions for part time workers is already clear.  Evidence submitted to the enquiry included a training document for Work Coaches currently carrying out pilot schemes into in-work conditionality.  They inform Jobcentre workers that “Conditionality is an important element in driving greater independence and ensuring that claimants take greater accountability to earn and work more” and that “sanctions play a vital role in supporting the conditionality regime”.  The committee do not comment on this overt encouragement of enforcing strict conditionality on working claimants, despite it being current practice already for those unlucky enough to be selected for the pilot.

In-work sanctions may have been dreamed up in the feverish mind of Iain Duncan Smith, but everyone has played their part.  From the charities too greedy or spineless to condemn these plans and say they will take no part in the scheme to the grasping welfare-to-work sector who are facing huge funding cuts and are desperate to rinse yet more money from the tax payer.  From the think tank’s fake experts who’ve never had a proper job to Frank Field’s committee and their skewing of the evidence in favour of the government’s demands.  The DWP have now been given a green light to carry on as they always intended and launch an onslaught on the low paid which will cause the same devastation in the lives of the poorest workers that has already been inflicted on the unemployed.  Everyone, who they consider important, has said it’s a good idea after all.

There has been no demand from the electorate for these measures, in fact most are horrified when they hear of it.  There have been no calls from part time workers, or the unions that represent them, for a Jobcentre run in-work service, whether mandatory or otherwise.  As the committee’s final report points out, there is no evidence that this scheme will be effective and nothing similar to it has ever been tried anywhere in the world.  That is probably because it’s such a shit idea.  But this shit idea is now going ahead as support has been gently fabricated at every stage to ensure that there is no serious, or even visible opposition to the DWP’s plans.

In a few years, even criticising the concept that in-work benefits should be conditional will be outside of acceptable thought for the listened to people.  This is how neoliberalism marches on.  The long, great theft of our labour and the demolition of our living standards is decided in committees, by reasonable people, who do not even notice the political agenda they are pursuing.  They barely even know they are doing politics.  Their cut-throat capitalist ideology is so entrenched that it is all that they can see or imagine.

You can read the committee’s report at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2015/in-work-progression-report-published-15-16/

h/t Noam Chomsky who first used the phrase manufacturing consent in an analysis of the US media, there’s a film about it here.

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Like Feeding Time At The Fucking Zoo – Workfare Industry Hijacks In-Work Sanctions Inquiry

snouts“ERSA believes it would be more appropriate to utilise the skills and experience which exists in the employment provider community”  The Employment Related Service Association (ERSA – the trade body established to lie on behalf of the employment provider community – better known as the workfare industry)

“We strongly believe that such in-work support should be contracted out, and would suggest that the existing work-based learning infrastructure would be in a prime position to achieve the results required.”  Association of Employment and Learning Providers (also ERSA, more or less).

“Stronger alignment and integration of housing associations into Universal Support and in-work employment support would help engage those facing complex barriers and improve outcomes” – National Housing Federation who represent housing associations.

“The Government should take a holistic approach to in-work progression, ensuring that employers, skills providers and employment support organisations are all involved.” Remploy, better known as Maximus, who can handily claim to be an employer, a skills provider and an employment support organisation.

“National Numeracy can help identify, assess and address poor numeracy …  among job seekers …” – National Numeracy

“The Department for Work and Pensions should therefore look to other organisations who deliver specialist job retention and in-work services with a strong track record.” Mental health charity MIND (hint, hint)

“If Universal Credit is to be truly ‘universal’ then no claimant groups should be exempt.” – Workfare company Learn Direct

“We think that charities could play an important role in the delivery of in-work progression.”   –  lone parent charity Gingerbread

“Specialist organisations already providing support to vulnerable claimants are a key resource. “ Homelessness charity Centrepoint .

“Delivery of pilots, research, consultation and communication could be achieved in partnership with BITC and its business membership base.”  BITC (Business in the Community)

It’s like feeding time at the fucking zoo.  The above quotes come from submissions to the recent government inquiry into changes to the social security system which will see benefit sanctions for part time workers.  This means that when Universal Credit is finally introdeced then claimants without a full time job will face payments being stopped or reduced for non-compliance with Jobcentre demands to  constantly look for more or better paid work.  They could even be sent on workfare in the hours they are not working.   The Work and Pensions Select Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinise DWP policy, carried out the enquiry into these measures which are already being piloted in some parts of the UK.

The responses to the inquiry from the welfare-to-work industry  – the toxic mixture of private companies and so-called charities involved in mandatory workfare and training programmes – were united in one demand.  They all want some money in the form of juicy government contracts to run any future scheme.

This is despite them almost all acknowledging that introducing benefit conditionality for part time workers has never been tried anywhere in the world and that there is no evidence it will be effective.  It is also despite the fact that the proposed system is to be backed by a horrifying benefit sanctions regimes which will see even those with jobs living in unprecedented poverty if they are sanctioned.  And of course it ignores the stark reality that it is near certain that no part-time worker in history has ever wished they could be sent on an unpaid work scheme or mandatory CV workshop in the hours they are not working.

It is true that many charities say they are opposed to sanctions for part-time workers whilst even the more naked profiteers such as private companies like Maximus raise concerns.  ERSA, who represent the industry, have used the enquiry to lobby for all in-work conditionality to be managed outside of Jobcentres – a long standing aim from an organisation which seeks to place all DWP services in private hands.  Others call for sanctions to be fair, or to not affect those they call vulnerable too badly.

Some are transparent in their self-interest such as the National Housing Federation who want ‘stronger integration of housing associations’ into any future scheme suggesting they could act as formal contractors and sub-contractors..  Their only concerns about benefit sanctions are focussed on those with rent arrears or special rent payment arrangements who they say should be excluded from conditionality.

A few submissions call for any in-work conditionality to be voluntary such as the one from Gingerbread, who want working lone parents to be exempt from sanctions.  They also insist however that charities should be involved in running the scheme and it is this that reveals the cynicism that now exists within the voluntary sector.  Gingerbread also oppose benefit sanctions for unemployed single parents.  That didn’t stop them running a lucrative Work Programme scheme where they were contractullay required to report lone parents to the Jobcentre for sanctions in cases of non-compliance.  We hate this, they say, it is unethical and counter to our charity’s objectives.  So we want a lot of money for doing it is the real message.

Of course some submissions to the inquiry were harsh in their criticism.  Boycott Workfare say no claimants should face sanctions whether in work or not and that the record of organisations running mandatory schemes is “a catalogue of corruption, violation of work and safety standards, and abuse.”  Oxfam warn that in-work sanctions are overly punitive, fail to take into account employer behaviour and could drive people into poverty. Parkinson’s UK say that neither the voluntary or the private sector should be involved in any future scheme and slam the ‘systemic failure’ of current benefit related health assessments.  The University of York who have a team studying benefit sanctions say “in practice, in-work conditionality can be counterproductive – undermining work incentives and opportunities rather than reinforcing them.”  And the PCS Union demand that “under no circumstances would it be appropriate to sanction an in-work claimant”, adding “but don’t expect us to do anything about it”.  Actually I added that bit.

The difference between these organisation, and those mentioned previously, is that none of them have been involved in welfare-to-work programmes.  As such there is no financial incentive for them to modify their demands. They have no need or desire to sell out their principles for thirty pieces of silver from the DWP.  So they are rightly damning of these proposals which are based on some horseshit Iain Duncan Smith scribbled down on the back of an envelope one day and new Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb is too cowardly to scrap.

In-work benefit sanctions could leave those working part time abandoned to survive on just a few pounds a day, for months, or even years at a time.  They are perhaps the most vicious social security legislation yet, from this or any previous government.  Those sanctioned will face a desperate choice between eating, or paying to get to work.  Homelessness, destitution and unemployment will be the likely outcome for many.  All of the organisations that responded to this enquiry know this.  Some don’t care.  A few oppose it outright and are prepared to say so.  But most are content to whinge a bit and then use the enquiry to make sure that if this system is to be widely introduced then at least they will make some money from it.  Those whopping charity chief executive salaries won’t pay themselves after all.

You can read all the submissions to the inquiry at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/universal-credit-15-16/publications/

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Fraud And Error Soaring In Universal Credit And Benefit Underpayments Hit Record High

lord-fraud-freud

The UK’s biggest benefit scammer Lord Fraud.

Fraud and error in the Universal Credit system is soaring whilst the rate of benefits going unpaid overall has hit a ten year high national statistics released last week have shown.

Statistics examining fraud and error within the benefit’s system are released annually and this is the first year that Universal Credit has been included. Almost 250,000 people are currently claiming the new benefit which is set to eventually replace all mainstream out of work benefits along with tax credits and housing benefit. One of the reasons given by ministers for such sweeping changes to social security was that Universal Credit would help cut fraud and error within the system. Last week’s statistics show that the opposite is happening.

Over-payments due to fraud and error make up 7.3% of Universal Credit’s total expenditure – higher than any other benefit the DWP administrates. The over-payment rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance, the benefit with the nearest comparable caseload of claimants, is just 5%.

Universal Credit’s performance is equally woeful when it comes to people being underpaid their benefits with 2.6% of expenditure not going to those entitled to it. Almost all of this is down to offical rather than claimant error, and once again, it is higher than any other DWP benefit.

Underpayments across all benefits hit 1% last year, the highest figure since comparable figures began in 2005.  And in another record for the DWP, the rate of benefits claimed fraudulently also hit a ten year high – although there is more to be said about this below.

To read lying bastard Lord Fraud’s gushing press release which accompanied these statistics you would not know any of this. Fraud and error combined is at a record low according to the Minister for Welfare Reform, when the truth is that the figure is unchanged since last year. The department also points out that both claimant and official error have fallen to record lows and makes no mention of the rise in fraud that has offset this. Neither do they mention the rise in under-payments.

The truth, as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) explains, is that in 2013/14 a change in how fraud and error were recorded resulted in many cases which were previously viewed as being an error being re-classified as fraud. This is the reason that errors in the most recent period are at record lows and also the reason that fraud over-payments are at record highs. According to the ONS this change means that “results post 2013/14 cannot be directly compared with the earlier results”. Yet that’s exactly what the DWP has done in an attempt to hide the truth about fraud and error within the system.

Despite all this, what the figures show is that fraud within the benefit’s system is very low, at just 0.9% of total expenditure. And even then these figures are rigged to maximise the chances of payments being recorded as claimant fraud rather than error.

The fraud and error statistics are collected by carrying out ‘benefit reviews’ on a small percentage of claimants and then using the outcomes of these reviews to calculate an approximate figure across the entire benefits system. What this means is that a claimant will receive a letter and then be expected to attend an interview where they will be interrogated about their benefit claim. These reviews are carried out at random, so if you get a letter about it don’t shit yourself and try to establish if this is a fraud ivestigation or a benefit review. Fraud investigations are usually carried out under caution, whereby anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.  You should be informed of this.

Two of the more common outcomes to these reviews are that the claimant is untraceble or found to be abroad. This is automatically viewed as being fraud when it could simply be that the claimant has moved house, informed the DWP and it has not been correctly recorded. It could also mean a landlord is still picking up housing benefit payments for a tenant that has long since moved out. Not all benefit fraud is carried out by benefit claimants.

Sometimes when a claimant is scheduled for review they report a change in circumstances or end their claim during the process. Again this is automatically recorded as fraud when it could just be a coincidence and simply mean they got a job. The same applies when there is a ‘loss of claimant contact’ meaning the benefit review is not completed for some unspecified reason. For the purposes of these statistics, an outcome of fraud does not mean someone has been prosecuted, or that a fraud has been admitted. It simply means that benefits were reduced or stopped as a result of the review and the DWP believes that the claimant was deliberately acting fraudulently.

Even with this calculated book-cooking the statistics show one stark fact. The total amount of money lost through fraud in 2015/16 was £1.6 billion and this is less than the amount of benefits which were underpaid which stands at £1.8 billion. Someone’s getting shafted alright, but it’s not the DWP, it’s us. Check your claim, make sure you’re getting every fucking penny you are entitled to.

Read the most recent Fraud and Error statistics and the background notes on how they are calculated (pdf).

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The True Horrors Of In-work Benefit Sanctions Have Not Yet Been Understood

sanction-sabsSo called hard-working people will soon be abandoned to unprecedented poverty when payments intended to cover housing costs are sanctioned for the first time under sweeping reforms to in-work benefits.

When Universal Credit is fully introduced (stop laughing) part-time workers on a low income will be expected to constantly look for more, or better paid work as a condition of receiving vital in-work benefits.  Any failure on the part of claimants to prove that they carried out constant job searching in the hours they were not working will mean benefits are sanctioned.

For claimants who are unemployed the sanction system will remain largely unchanged under Universal Credit.  Those without health problems who are sanctioned will lose all of their personal benefits except what is required to pay for housing costs or children.  This will mean a childless claimant will have no money at all once they have paid their rent – although they may be eligible to apply for emergency Hardship Payments of around £40 a week.  It is this nasty regime that has led to the explosion in foodbanks and been linked to a growing number of suicides.

If this same claimant is in part time work then they may not receive any additional benefits other than the housing element of Universal Credit – the replacement for what is now known as Housing Benefit.  And so, for the first time, it is this benefit which will be sanctioned should they fail to carry out Jobcentre demands to look for additional work.

Working claimants who are sanctioned will lose the same amount as those who are unemployed  – the equivalent of a current weekly dole payment of £71.70.  That means if some is working on a low income and claiming help with their housing costs then £71.70 will be deducted from their benefit.  To see the full horror of how this will play out in some people’s lives then you have to do some sums.

Take a single, childless person in Bristol working at the current minimum wage for 20 hours a week and paying £120 a week in rent – the local housing allowace rate in the area for a claimant over 35.  Under Universal Credit this person will have a weekly income of £244 made up of £144 a week in wages and £100 a week in benefits.  Once their rent is paid this will leave them with £124 a week.  If they are sanctioned however they will lose £73.10 leaving them with just £50.90 a week to live on.  That’s over £20 a week less than the current dole and just £10 a week more than Hardship Payments.  Universal Credit will therefore not make work pay for those who have been sanctioned.  It will however make work compulsory.

The claimant will not be able to leave their job without risking a disallowance – meaning no benefits at all.  In the hours they are not working they will still be expected to carry out work related activity to look for a better job, which under current rules, could include some form of workfare.  The meagre income they receive means they will be unlikely to qualify for additional Hardship Payments.  And astonishingly they are also likely to have to pay Council Tax out of that sum.
In Bristol they would be expected to pay around £9 a week in Council Tax assuming they lived in the lowest possible band.  This brings their weekly income down to about £42 a week – and they are working.

A weeky bus pass in Bristol costs £23.80.  Claimants must be prepared to travel at least 90 minutes on public transport to their job so in most cases this will be a necessary expense.  This will mean hard working people surviving on less than £20 a week for food, clothes, basic hygiene costs and bills.  That of course assumes they aren’t subject to the Bedroom Tax in which case they will get no money at all in some cases, just a steadily increasing debt.

The only real option for most will be to dig into money intended to cover rent.  For working claimants a sanction will mean inevitable rent arrears – and as a sanction can last up to three years – for many it will mean homelessness.  And therefore eventual joblessness.  And with no benefits because losing their job will have been deemed to be their own fault.

This system is designed to ‘incentivise’ people to look for more, or better paid work.  So imagine, by some fucking miracle, that an in-work benefit sanction doesn’t destroy someone, it motivates them.  That they pull their socks up and by some other fucking miracle manage to find an additional job which doesn’t clash with their existing hours.  Let’s say they gain an additional 10 hours a week work on the Minimum Wage.  Will it make any difference?  Barely, because the sanction will still apply unless they have been working full time for a period of six months.

Much of their additional wages will be eaten up by housing costs as their already sanctioned claim is reduced the more they earn.  So somebody working 30 hours a week, with a sanction, in the cicrumstances described above, would receive a total of £207.68 a week in wages and no Universal Credit at all.  After rent and Council Tax is paid that will leave them with £77.  Less than a fiver more than the current dole.  For working 30 hours a week.

There is nothing particularly special about this claimant’s circumstances other than that they live in the south of England where rents are higher.  In London and other areas many will fare even worse.  There should be no doubt about what these sanctions are intended to do.  This is the bureacratic annihilation of an individual as a message to everybody else that if you do not comply – that if you do not constantly strive – the government will destroy you.  It is like nothing that has been seen in UK legislation since the horrors of the workhouse.

According to the DWP benefit sanctions are only used as a ‘last resort’.  There have been 1.6 million ‘last resorts’ since the system was toughened in 2012.  In work benefit sanctions are already being trialled in some parts of the UK with desperate results.  The extension of this brutal regime will create in-work poverty that has rarely, if ever, been seen before in the UK.  People working for pennies, with no quality of life at all. Those already living in the cheapest possible accommodation that can be found in most of the country facing homelessness.  Some of these people will be ill, wrongly found fit for work by Atos or Maximus.  Some will be left with no money at all depending on if they are subject to the Beneift Cap or Bedroom Tax.  Others will have debts they will never hope to pay back whilst sanctioned and so will just get bigger and bigger.

An in-work benefit sanction for many will be a life sentence, especially for those who are older and carry any debts incurred into retirement.  For others it will be a death sentence as the strain of extreme poverty, hard work and constant Jobcentre harassment pushes some over the edge.  DWP ministers are happy to accept this collateral damage as part of their attempt to dicipline the working class into accepting a life of hard-working drudgery for poverty pay.  The only question that now remains is will the trade unions, charities and others that have cowardly accepted vicious welfare refoms continue their co-operation when it is their own workers and members who are subject to this torment?

You can read the current rules for Universal Credit, and many other benefits at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-decision-making-staff-guide

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How To Get Away With Murder: DWP Hides The Evidence In Suicide Reviews

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Documents published by the DWP today hint that shocking neglect within the benefits system may have contributed to claimants’ deaths yet heavy redaction means there is little hard evidence.

The department have finally released 49 peer reviews into the deaths of claimants following a recent ruling from the Information Rights Commission.  The documents are so heavily censored however that many of them are completely blank with all relevant details redacted including dates, and even cause of death.

The DWP claim that withholding this information has been done to protect the identity of claimants – in line with the tribunal ruling.  But then they would fucking say that wouldn’t they.  This is the same DWP who want to share benefit claimants’ personal details with local authorities, landlords and charities.  It seems they only start to care about your privacy once they’ve killed you.

Despite the lack of details the documents deserve close scrutiny.  The over-riding theme seems to be a lack of processes in place to identify claimants at risk of suicide.  There are also indicators of grotesque incompetence within the system.  One report recommends that staff working on the Employment Support Allowance helpline are given refresher training to “help them better understand the claim process.”  Others call for more to be done to ensure claimants deemed vulnerable have a home visit before benefits are ‘disallowed’.  It is unclear whether this report was carried out before or after the DWP finally admitted that safeguarding visits should be carried out before any claimant with a mental health condition is sanctioned.

What is clear is that DWP policies were deemed to be a contributory factor in at least one of these deaths.  One report also raises the question of whether the death under investigation represents “a dislocation between policy intent and what actually happens to claimants who may be vulnerable”.

Police in Scotland are currently assessing whether to hold an investigation into former DWP ministers Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith over “wilful neglect of duty by a public official” following a complaint brought by the Black Triangle Campaign over suicides linked to the despised ‘fit for work’ tests.  There may be evidence of this neglect in these peer reviews.

What we know for sure is that these 49 people are dead.  And that even amongst the scant information available there is evidence of DWP failings that contributed to these deaths.  The government has failed in its duty of care to vulnerable claimants and people died as a result.  How far that failure goes must now be urgently investigated.

The documents can be downloaded at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-foi-releases-for-may-2016

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As Homelessness Soars Number Of Empty Homes In London Hits Seven Year High

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London doesn’t have a housing problem it has a rich people problem.  Despite soaring homelessness in the capital, figures recently released by the government show that the number of homes left empty in the city has risen for the first time since 2009.

There are currently 59,881 empty homes in London.  That is enough to house everybody currently living in emergency temporary accommodation in the city  – and everyone sleeping on the streets.  20,000 of these properties have been empty over two years.  These are not second homes, properties which are rented out or homes used for holidays.  They are empty, abandoned in some cases, or more often deliberately left vacant as investment opportunities.

It is this that is likely to be the reason the number of empty homes is rising in the capital but falling everywhere else in the UK.  Luxury penthouses built not for living in, just for making money out of.  These cunts are so rich they can’t even be bothered to rent out the properties they own – they just sit back and profit as house prices soar.  Or at least they did.  The party may soon be over with central London house prices now starting to fall.

This is the legacy of Boris Johnson.  A capital city remade as a grotesque monument to capital.  The real people of London forced out, or condemned to a life on the margins whilst billionaires built their own corporate Disneyland.  A sterile landscape of glass and steel now dominates the city whilst once beautifully chaotic streets are overrun with chain stores and wacky trust fund businesses selling bowls of cereal for a fucking fiver.  There is no place for human life in this city at all.  It is just a place that money lives now.

An army of security guards stalk the privatised city streets handing out fines to kids playing football or folk enjoying a quiet beer in the park.  Racist cops ruthlessly shut down working class culture wherever they find it, even banning clubs from playing music they don’t like.  Uniformed filth carrying machine guns glare at people on the public transport system.  Occassionally they shoot someone.  The message is stark and clear.  This is not our city anymore, this is a giant bank where the crooks of the world can store their wealth.  And so we must be constantly policed, always watched in case we present a threat to the pampered lifestyles of the wealthy minority.

According to charities the number of people who slept rough on the streets of London this winter rose by 15% in just one year to 2,561.  Beneath the glitzy facade poverty stalks the city. Bodies huddle in shop doorways whilst champagne glasses clink in restaurants where a meal costs more than a week’s wages.  Children go hungry in grotty hostels beneath empty shyscrapers where the flats cost millions of pounds yet no-one lives there.  This is what Boris has created.  A ghost-town in sky that has shut out the city’s light.

Quietly though, everywhere, people are organising.  Thousands of people whose homes are under threat grow more militant everyday.  Students are on rent strike across the capital.  Towards the end of the 2011 riots a mob headed towards Notting Hill and Sloane Square, smashing up designer shops and attacking restaurants.  Unlicenced and boisterous street parties are shaking the newly gentrified enclaves that once belonged to the working class.  Tenants facing eviction are barricading themselves in their homes.

Direct action, disruption and outright defiance are the weapons of choice, not petitions, or voting, or boring marches.  Everyone knows now who is too blame and where they live.  A reckoning is surely coming.  Be ready.

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