Category Archives: Welfare Reform

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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Huge Success For Campaigners As Rage Against Maximus Explodes Onto The Streets Across The UK

Disabled protesters block Victoria Street bringing traffic chaos.

Disabled protesters block Victoria Street bringing traffic chaos.

Over 30 towns and cities held protests yesterday against the involvement of sinister US based outsourcing company Maximus in the despised Work Capability Assessments.

Maximus take over from Atos this week carrying out the tests used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by finding them ‘fit for work’.  Atos were chased out of their lucrative contract with the DWP after a string of protests destroyed their carefully crafted corporate identity and campaigners have vowed to do the same to Maximus.

In London up to a hundred disabled people and supporters descended on their non-descript London offices where a noisy and determined protest took place outside their front door.  Protesters then took to the streets and occupied a roundabout where a Work Capability Assessment circus was held with events including a jumping through hoops display and a box lifting competition – a reference to one of the criteria in the assessments used to find people fit for work.  The circus ended with a rousing chorus of David Cameron Is A Wanker from the Kilburn Unemployed Workker’s Group.

Protesters then marched towards Parliament Square, stopping briefly outside the locked down and fenced off Department of Work and Pensions before blocking the busy Victoria Street.  Whilst a low key police presence looked on protesters held the road for almost an hour, bringing traffic to a standstill.

The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), alongside Black Triangle, Mental Health Resistence Network, UK Uncut, #newapproach and many more.  Protests also took place across England, Scotland and Wales, with even a solidarity protest outside Maximus’ offices in Toronto, Canada.  For a round up of tweets, pics, video and reports so far visit DPAC’s website.

The hashtag for the day #maximarse also briefly trended on twitter as thousands of people vented their outrage about the company online.  This proved so popular that a panicking Maximus quickly bought the domain name marximarse.com as spotted by @refuted.

The day was a huge success for campaigners and showed that simply changing the bastards carrying out these assessments has done nothing to dampen the rage against these nasty and vindictive tests.  Yesterday was just the start.    The best thing Maximus could do now is cut their losses and scuttle off back under a rock because all this contract is going to do is cost them lots and lots of money.

For a video of the Victoria Street blockade and report visit: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2015/03/maximus-protest-videos-pictures-how-people-can-and-will-destroy-big-corporates/

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Sell, Sell, Sell! Maximus Share Prices Could Tumble After Welfare To Work Scandal Rocks Australia

share-collapse1A damning documentary exposing the shoddy behaviour of Maximus and the welfare-to-work sector in Australia could lead to a drop in the company’s share price according to one stockmarlet analyst.

The programme, produced by ABC (and still viewable here), tells a story which will be familiar to all those in the UK forced to attend outsourced schemes such as Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme.  Claimants had their benefits stopped for no reason, signatures on paperwork were faked and the most marginalised claimants were parked – meaning abandoned completely by the companies who saw no profit in helping them.  Maximus dominate the welfare-to-work sector in Australia, and have several contracts running similar schemes in the UK.

According to an analyst on finance website Seeking Alpha, Maximus earn 10% of their revenue in Australia and that could now be under threat due to a ‘short term negative news cycle’.  They haven’t fucking seen anything yet.

Tomorrow (2nd March 2015) over 30 towns and cities in the UK will hold protests against the company due to their upcoming involvement in the despised Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  These are the shoddy tests used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by declaring them ‘fit for work’.  Previous contractor Atos were chased out of the assessments after their corporate reputation was destroyed by five years of ferocious campaigning by claimants.  Maximus take over this week.

The DWP think the main problem with the WCA is how it is perceived.  Amusingly new contractors Maximus boasted they would not face protests like their predecessors because they were going to carry out the assessments in a ‘timely manner’.  Speaking to the BBC  a representative of the company said: “There is a need to better explain to people that they’re not coming to an exam, they’re coming to an interview.”

They must think we are fucking idiots.  The stated intention of the WCA, when it was first launched by Labour in 2008, was to strip out of work sickness benefits from one million people.  No amount of scatter cushions in assessment centres or nicely worded letters will change that.  Just like Atos, Maximus have been  employed to stop people’s benefits and everybody knows it.  And just like Atos, that process will lead to suicides, deterioration in people’s health and desperate poverty.

The Work Capability Assessment is based on three flawed assumptions.  The first is the ludicrous medical consensus which claims that work is good for you in almost any circumstances despite evidence which shows poor quality jobs can be worse for your health than unemployment.  The second is that there is plenty of work to go round if people just try hard enough, yet there are only 700,000 vacancies currently available and just short of two million unemployed people desperate for a job – a figure which does not include and additional two and a half million sickness benefit claimants.  And the third and perhaps most toxic is that large numbers of people on out of work sickness or disability benefits are scroungers, workshy, fraudulent or faking their health condition.

The UK does not have significantly more people on out of work sickness or disability benefits than countries with comparable economies.  Every single claimant has already been signed off as unable to work by their own GP – a pre-condition of claiming sickness benefits.  Most sickness benefit claims are temporary, when people get better they leave benefits and go back to work.  The amount of fraud in the system is tiny because it’s just not worth the risk of faking an illness and risking increasingly severe criminal penalties for the sake of an extra £30 odd quid a week compared to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Because the entire process is based on lies, these assessments cannot be reformed, improved, or made fair.  The WCA is driving people to despair and even their deaths in some tragic cases, all to save trivial amounts of money.  It needs to be scrapped, immediately.  Since neither of the main politial parties are prepared to do that it needs to be made unprofitable.  That is all that sinister corporate bastards like Maximus understand.  And it can be made unprofitable, as Atos recently found out to their cost.  So let’s do it again. Relentlessly and starting tomorrow.

h/t @Hephaestus7

Please help spread the word about the Day of Action Against Maximus, full details at: http://dpac.uk.net/2015/02/your-all-in-one-guide-to-the-maximus-national-day-of-action-2nd-march-scrapwca-maximarse/

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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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The Homelessness Epidemic Gets Worse, Highest Number Of Rough Sleepers Since National Count Began

rough-sleeping-graphThe UK’s homelessness epidemic is growing worse as statistics show there are more people sleeping on the streets in our city centres than at any point since national records began in 1998.

Rough sleeping has leapt by over 50% across England since the current Government weren’t elected going from 1,768 people in 2010 to an unprecedented 2,744 in 2014.  Despite Boris’ claim he would end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012, the number of street homeless people in London has almost doubled from 415 to 742 people between 2010 and 2014.

The first national street count was carried out in 1998 when 1,850 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in the UK according to homelessness charity Crisis.  By 2002 it had fallen to 585.  Since then it has more than quadrupled and the rise shows no sign of slowing – rough sleeping in London jumped by 37% in the last year alone.

The Tories have been quick to blame immigrants for the rise, as if no-one ever came to London from overseas and ended up homeless prior to 2010.  In truth the CHAIN figures (pdf), collected by charities and published alongside the government’s estimate, show that rough sleeping has risen in London amongst both UK nationals and those from Central and Eastern Europe who only make up 34% of the total.

Even these figures, which are based on a physical count of people sleeping rough in just one night, only show the tip of the iceberg – not least because there are persistent rumours of police operations clearing the streets of homeless people before the count takes place.  In addition the count does not include people squatting in abandoned buildings, sleeping in locked public parks, living in vehicles or hidden away outside city centres.  The true extent of rough sleeping in England is far higher than these figures suggest – and this is just the most acute form of homelessness.   There are tens of thousands of single homeless people living in hostels or nightshelters who are not recorded in any figures.  There may be as many as 400,000 hidden homeless, staying temporarily with friends and relatives or living in B&Bs.  The number of homeless families is also steadily rising with 60,000 families currently living in temporary accommodation.

Homelessness charities have blamed both soaring housing costs and welfare reforms for the homelessness epidemic.  Chillingly we are not even close to seeing the real impact of the Bedroom Tax, Benefit Cap and slashing of Housing Benefits for those under 35.  Many people are having shortfalls in their benefits made up by ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’ – which can be removed at any time by local authorities.  Others are surviving for now, or haven’t yet fallen into high enough arrears to face eviction.  The Benefit Uprating Bill, which pegs rises in Housing Benefit at 1% no matter how much rents soar, will place further pressure on those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.  The Tories have pledged to remove Housing Benefit from the young completely if they win the next election.  Labour are threatening yet more benefit sanction based forced work schemes – the cause of the ‘massive’ rise in street homelessness in Manchester according to local charities.  Several London Labour MPs want more laws to criminalise squatting.

Mass homelessness is set to be one of the most visible legacies of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.  How bad things are going to get is the only real question left and not one politician, of any main party, seems to give a shit.

You can read the latest Rough Sleeping Statistics at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics#rough-sleeping

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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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