Category Archives: Welfare Reform

With Coronavirus Around The Corner It’s Time To Scrap Sanctions And Brutal Benefit Assessments

The DWP has reportedly declared business as usual for benefit claimants as the UK prepares itself for an increasingly likely Coronavirus epidemic.

DWP staff have been told that only those advised by medical staff to self isolate should be exempt from brutal benefit sanctions for failing to attend appointments at the Jobcentre*. Meanwhile there is no information on the website for those on disability benefits called in to be assessed for Personal Independences Payments – the benefit for those with additional living costs due to sickness or disability. And Work Capability Assessments, designed to strip sick and disabled people of out of work benefits by declaring them fit for work, appear to be continuing unscathed.

The DWP’s own guidance acknowledges that benefit sanctions are likely to cause a decline in health even at the best of times. There is ample evidence of the stress and ill health caused to sickness and disability benefit claimants due to regular assessments carried out by private companies like Atos and Maximus. Yet all will still be forced to attend Jobcentres and assessment centres or face desperate poverty as benefits are sanctioned or stopped for non attendance. At the very least vultures like Atos could provide some information on what those facing benefit assessments should do if they are sick or have been advised to self isolate. But as the screenshot above shows, they haven’t even bothered to do that.

If Boris Johnson truly wishes to protect the most vulnerable as he claims then removing the threat of benefit sanctions, and halting reassessments for sickness and disability claimants, should be an immediate priority. Those awaiting new claims could still be assessed on a voluntary basis, with the promise of benefits backdated should they choose not to attend – or even better interim payments until the crisis is resolved. The economic cost of such a move will be neglible and with some workplaces closing, and events being cancelled across the globe, there seems little reason not to do this now. It may not make a huge difference in slowing the spread of the virus, although it will do no harm, but it will at least send a message to those with least that should the worst happen then this Government will have their back. So don’t hold your fucking breath. The spite of the DWP knows no bounds.

Cancelling PIP and WCA re-assessments would also free up thousands of so-called medical staff who carry out the tests to go and do some proper healthcare for a change should hospitals become over-stretched. Meanwhile Jobcentre busybodies could be stationed in public toilets to harass people who don’t wash their hands or something which equally matches their skill set.

Those sanctioned or denied benefits cannot stock up on food and stay at home if advised to by medical staff. Many will find it difficult to afford heating or hot water, buy basic hygeine products, or medication for their symptoms should they become ill. Some will have no choice but to queue up at foodbanks for supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently living a hand to mouth existence due meagre benefits, sanctions and the relentlessly cruel social security system. Scrapping all benefit sanctions, right now, would prevent some of this suffering immediately and allow people to build their health back up, even a little, before the worst of this virus hits.

It is understandable that authorities want to avoid panic – we don’t yet know how far Coronavirus will spread or how deadly and infectious it may yet turn out to be. But there is little more that is panic inducing then seeing a brown envelope drop through your letterbox from the DWP compelling you to attend an Atos assessment or informing you of a benefit sanction or stoppage. Removing this stress from claimant’s lives now would make a huge difference to the resiliance of the poorest and might just improve their health.

If things become as bad as they might then the sooner sanctions and disability benefit assessments are stopped or suspended then the more lives are likely to be saved. And if things don’t turn out so bad and the virus is brought under control then the only consequence will be hundreds of thousands of people having some respite from poverty and ill health casued by the brutal benefits regime. The tragedy is that to a Tory government, obsessed with punishing the poor, it seems that is too high a price to pay.

*Current advice is to contact your Jobcentre as soon as possible to avoid sanction if you are unable to attend an appointment due to being advised to self-isolate by 111 or a medical professional.

Hunger, Homelessness and Despair, The Stark Reality of the Benefit Cap

benefit-cap2It is hard to imagine a more poisonous piece of legislation than the lowered Benefit Cap, set to be introduced this Autumn, which will plunge quarter of a million children into desperate housing insecurity and possible homelessness.

This will be the third time that the Benefit Cap – which limits the weekly amount that can be received in benefits – has been lowered in just five years.  In 2011 George Osborne capped Housing Benefit in a sweeping move which made much of central London unaffordable for those unable to work due to childcare responsibilities, sickness or unemployment.  Then in 2013 benefits were capped further, at £500 a week for a family with children, extending the problem of unaffordability out to Greater London, the Home Counties and beyond, with many large cities seeing families affected.  And now the cap is to be lowered again, to around £440 a week in London and £384 elsewhere.

On average this means families set to lose £60 a week according to an Impact Assessment published by the DWP last week and it will no longer be just a London problem.  Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Glasgow and Bradford are all likely to have at least 1000 households affected whilst in Birmingham 3,900 households will face an abrupt cut in housing benefits.  It is not the fault of struggling families that rents in the UK have soared out of reach in many areas which has led to the growing Housing Benefit bill.  It is the result a failure to build enough low cost housing.  But it is the poor who will pay.

benefit-cap5

The government claim the Benefit Cap has been a huge success, pointing to a series of evaluations that showed a small rise in the number of people subject to the cap who found work.  But behind these celebratory statistics lies a bitter truth.  It has become common, in evaluations of DWP policy, to use ‘job outcomes’ to justify any atrocity.  Someone hangs themselves after being found fit for work and having their benefits stopped – well this is just fine because someone else got a job in Poundland.  No other social policies would be evaluated this way.  It is like testing a new drug and completely ignoring deadly side effects on the basis that a handful of people’s health had slightly improved.

benefit-cap6

With families facing eviction due to the Benefit Cap it has indeed forced many to desperately look for any job they can find.  Those able to find between work, of between 16 and 30 hours a week  depending on their circumstances, become exempt from the cap leading many to hound their employers for more hours, often unsuccessfully.

benefit-cap4

For the 18% of claimants affected by the Benefit Cap who are long term sick or disabled this of course has not been an option.  Despite repeated lies from DWP ministers that disabled people are not affected by the cap this only applies to those with the most serious health conditions or disabilities.  Claimants of the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance are not exempt from the cap if health assessors decide their condition may improve in the future.  Many claimants are battling ill health as well as facing the prospect of losing their homes.

benefit-cap3

Neither is simply finding a job a realistic solution for those with very young children, or even babies.  This hasn’t stopped many local councils simply shrugging off the upcoming trauma faced by those with young children who face losing their homes.

benefit-cap7

What the interviews with claimants do seem to suggest is that if the cap has had any impact at all, it has been to encourage lone parents to seek work before they felt their children were ready to be left alone.

benefit-cap9

These were parents who intended to go back to work anyway.  Others have had dreams of furthering their education shattered by the cap.

benefit-cap8

Sometimes it has not been the claimant themselves who was affected.

benefit-cap10

Rarely has government policy had such a devastating impact on children’s lives.  Behind the lauded ‘job outcomes’ lies a trail of destitution.  Countless families have reported being left without enough money for food.  Huge numbers are in rent arrears.  Many have been forced to move – at the time of the most recent evaluation 10% of households had moved house due to the cap.  These evaluations were carried in 2014 however, meaning many families covered by the reports would have only been subject to the cap for a short period.  The growing rise in homeless families, especially in London, points to the devastating long term impact of the Benefit Cap.

benefitcap-11

Punishing children with homelessness because of the eye-watering rents demanded by landlords is a new low for even the Tory Party, but it is the upcoming lowering of the cap which will perhaps inflict the greatest cruelty.  According to last week’s impact assessment, “those already capped at £26,000 will have the new, lower, cap applied to them.”  This is estimated to be around 22,000 households.  These are families that may have already moved to a cheaper area and are just starting to get their lives back on track.  They are the families featured in the quotes that accompany this piece.  Some of the poorest people in the UK, already struggling to survive and raise their children.

benefit-cap13
And now the government is coming for them again.  Imagine explaining to a young child just settling into a new school, who may have recently faced a spell in temporary housing that they now have to go through it all again.  A child just starting to make friends to replace the ones they lost due to the last forced relocation will now be looking at a future in yet another new school, or even another new city.

benefit-cap12

Most of those facing the Benefit Cap are women, usually lone parents.  Black and Ethnic Minority families are hugely over-represented amongst those affected, as are disabled people.  For those unable to find work or increase their hours their options are stark.  Many have only been able to stay in their homes due to Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) paid by local authorities to families facing imminent homelessness.  These payments will not last forever and are increasingly being used to meet the cost of housing families in temporary accommodation.  A recent homelessness update from Westminster Council (H/t @nearlylegal) showed that around half of the borough’s spend on DHP’s is paying for temporary accommodation for those made homeless due to the benefit cap.  It is only now that Local Authorities are starting to feel the impact of the Benefit Cap introduced in 2013. With a new further cut set to pile on the pressure even further homelessness amongst those with children could soar to levels not seen in generations in the UK.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

DPAC Week of Action – September 4th-10th. #RightsNotGames

WOA-Logo-5Apologies for the lack of posts recently.  Back very soon, in the meantime this is from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and gives details of the upcoming week of action to coincide with the Paralympic Games.  Please spread the word and get involved if you can.

DPAC Week of Action- September 4th-10th

Sunday September 4th pop-up art action – if anyone wants to take part in this please email us at mail@dpac.uk.net as further information will not be made public. This will go live on-line at 2pm

Monday September 5th Independent Living Day. Lobby and report in parliament following the horrendous cuts to care and support funding for personal assistance following the closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015. Committee Room 21 from 2-4pm. Please allow about 20- 30 minutes to get through security

Afterwards 5pm at College Green opposite parliament for fun and festivities DPAC-style.

Tuesday September 6th National Day of Action against cumulative cuts faced by disabled people. Around the country. Please send us details of anything you’re organising. See this page for more information, including a list of locations where protests are being held.

Wednesday September 7th meet for noon opposite Downing Street for ‘No More Claimant Deaths’ protest.

Thursday September 8th An online day of action for all. More details will be published on website nearer the time.

Saturday September 10th International Conference, Resistance:Beyond Borders from 10.30am-4.30 pm at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Rd, London N7 6PA.
Speakers from Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Greece, Ireland and Germany.
See Conference 10th Sept Disabled Peoples’ Resistance: building beyond borders
To book a place please email us at mail@dpac.uk.net and give details of any access and dietary needs. Limited places available.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

What A Shambles, Lord Fraud’s Budgeting Support Trials An Embarrassing, Expensive Flop

lord-fraud-freudMinister for Welfare Reform Lord Fraud could do with some budgeting support himself after his recent trial to help benefit claimants manage their money proved to be an embarrassing flop that squandered £4 million of tax payer’s money.

Under Universal Credit all benefits will have to be claimed online, despite many claimants having no access to the internet and some having no experience of using computers.  Benefit payments are also to be made monthly and there is a minimum five week waiting period for new claims.  For the small group of claimants transferred onto the new system this in particular is already causing desperate suffering – a recent evaluation found that almost half of Universal Credit claimants were in rent arrears.

This was not supposed to be a problem according to comedy toff Lord Fraud who is over-seeing much of the introduction of Universal Credit.  A new budgeting support scheme would be set up to help the so-called vulnerable manage their money and teach them to use a computer.  Several trials were established to test how this scheme, named Universal Support, would be supplied.  These trials cost just over £4 million and the results are bleak.  An evaluation of the pilots published today found that Universal Support had “no statistically significant impact on either digital or financial capability.”

Perhaps the biggest flaw in this scheme to help those on Universal Credit manage their finances was that those involved in the trial were not on Universal Credit.  The areas in which the pilots were carried out did not include those places where Universal Credit has been introduced.  So what these trials really tested was the impact of Universal Support on people claiming benefits that are being phased out such as Jobseeker’s Allowance.  This meant that the pilots had to sort of pretend that participants were about to claim Universal Credit when they weren’t.  According to the evaluation this presented a significant barrier to people wishing to take up the support, which was offered by local councils, advice agencies and Jobcentres.  As one support workers involved in the trial said “Trying to get them to understand a system that’s not in place that may or may not apply to them at any given time is not very easy to do .”

Some Jobcentres of course managed to find a way round this reluctance amongst claimants to take part in the trials.  In a chilling example of how Jobcentre Work Coaches mislead and coerce claimants the evaluation reported that “Carmarthenshire and Dundee both reported that it was easier to encourage claimants to engage through Jobcentre Plus because they thought that the support was part of their Claimant Commitment.”  Several participants in the trials said they only took part because they thought it was mandatory.  In truth it was only in Islington that those carrying out the trial had the power to mandate claimants to attend under the threat of benefit sanction.

In the end just over half of those (51%) referred to Universal Support chose not to take it up.  Amongst those that did two key problems emerged which point to a worrying future.  The first impacted on those requiring help with using computers.  Both staff and participants involved in the trials said that many claimants depend on mobile phone for internet access, with one reporting “‘I would say the majority of the people we see have a mobile but many of them (a) can’t use it or (b) can’t pay for their broadband connection or (c) can’t pay it, don’t have the money to pay for a call or don’t have one at all.”  A further problem was that in more rural areas internet access is still limited and superfast broadband is rare.  Universal Credit is set to be ‘digital by default’.  If claimants cannot access the internet then they will not be able to manage their claim.

The second problem emerged amongst claimants accessing budgeting support.  The evaluation found that the most significant problem facing this group was not that they needed help learning to budget but simply that they didn’t have enough money.  As one person involved in managing the scheme said “It’s not a capacity issue in terms of actually being able to do the sums or being able to understand when to pay what when…what comes out is actually they just don’t have enough money to get from one of the months to the other.”

The evaluation does report that there were some ‘soft outcomes’ as a result of attending the scheme, with some claimants reporting a positive impact in areas of their lives which were unconnected to budgeting or computer skills.  This may reflect the fact many of the scheme were run as part of a wider package of support which also looked into areas such as housing, health, and of course employability.  The results of the overall evaluation of the scheme however found it made no difference in people’s ability to access IT or manage their money – although the researchers caution that only the short term effects of the scheme could be studied so far.  A cost/benefit analysis of the trial therefore showed that the £4 million spent on Universal Support was squandered, with no demonstrable benefits either to the public or the claimants themselves.

Just over 4000 people were referred onto Universal Support and actually took up the offer and engaged with services.  Many of them faced significant financial hardship and debt.  If Lord Fraud had better budgeting skills then he could have used that £4 million to chuck everybody a grand and actually give them some real help for a change.  But help is the last thing you can expect from a social security system devised by a former banker who has never been elected to anything.  Of course this will never affect Lord Fraud himself, who is a very rich man.  So the next time he wants to inflict a half-baked vanity scheme on benefit claimants he should fucking pay for it himself.

You can read the evaluation at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-the-universal-support-delivered-locally-trials

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

New Disability Tests Are Even Worse Than First Feared, Join The Fightback On July 13th

crapita

Disabled people have called a day of action against notoriously crap Capita on July 13th

Vital benefits – designed to meet the additional costs of living with a disability – have been stripped away completely from over 120,00 people DWP statistics revealed this week.

Over a quarter of those previously claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) have lost their benefits after being re-assessed by a private company as no longer having sufficient care or mobility needs to qualify for help.  Savage new benefit eligibility tests have been introduced as part of the switch to Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which is gradually replacing DLA.  So far 27% of those facing this re-assessment have lost their benefit with hundreds of thousands of people still to be tested.  Originally the government claimed 20% of people would lose their benefits due to the change-over.  Chillingly it now appears it could be much worse.  For newly disabled people the situation is even more dire, with only 48% of new claims for PIP being successful.

The shocking statistics come after disabled people announced a day of action against Capita, one of the companies who administer the tests – the other being the despised Atos.  Disabled People Againsts Cuts (DPAC)Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and Winvisible have joined forces to call for demonstrations in towns and cities across the UK on July 13th aimed at bringing these vile assessments to an end.

In London demonstrators will gather outside Capita’s offices at 71 Victoria Street, SW1 from 13.15.  An online protest will also be held on the day.  Please join and share the facebook page for the latest details of all events.  As the protesters say:

“ATOS and Capita are making a killing from conducting sham PIP assessments which are seeing thousands of legitimate claimants having their benefits reduced, their incomes slashed and their motorbility cars removed.”

It is time to up the struggle and to demand that the corporate assessors #DoNoHarm”

The latest PIP statistics can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/personal-independence-payment-april-2013-to-april-2016

This blog is likely to remain sporadic until after the referendum, and possibly a bit after that.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

How Eric Pickles Acted To Protect The Empty Penthouses Of The Global Super Rich

real-estate-forum

Join Class War, 1pm, 14th June, Berkeley Square outside the London property developer’s forum.

Imagine if there was a law that prevented the rich from leaving luxury properties empty as investments.  Even better, imagine if this law ensured that if a home was left vacant for over six months then local authorities could take over the management of the property and use it as part of their own housing stock to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people.  That would be a good fucking law, and that’s a rare thing.  And it is a law that the Labour Party accidentally introduced, although their target was not the rich, but squatters and those they claimed were involved in anti-social behaviour.

Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) came into effect in 2006 to tackles the problem of empty homes which the government said were “magnets for vandals, drug users, squatters and even arsonists”.  They operated exactly as described above, with powers for councils to take over vacant properties and rent them out to those waiting for permanent housing.  Of course this being Tony Blair’s Labour Party the new powers were awash with bureacracy and caveats to protect the rich.  Second homes were to be sadly exempt from the legislation, as were many other empty properties such as holiday homes.  Councils would have to make legthy application to a tribunal and property owners were given wide-ranging rights of appeal.  This didn’t stop the right wing press going into meltdown over the legislation with The Sunday Times declaring Britain had become a communist country.

In the end just 43 EDMOs were issued between 2006 and 2010.  The great expropriation had not happened and the rich continued to horde land and housing as much as ever.  This didn’t stop Eric Pickles rushing to change the laws within months of the Tory’s stealing power in 2010.

Pickles, who was Communities Secretary at the time, announced in early 2011 that he was bringing to an end these ‘heavy handed’ rules.  This news was barely reported at the time.  Now EDMOs can only be issued if a property has been empty for over two years, and more importantly only when local councils can prove the property is being used for anti-social purposes.  Pickles said he did this to protect civil liberties.

There seems little doubt that EDMOs could have been issued against rich investors who buy up luxury properties and leave them empty – a phenomena that is now extending to other cities besides London.  It would have been difficult, and might not have worked – oligarchs have good lawyers – but it would have been worth a try for an imaginative local authority facing growing homelessness.  But now that option has been shut down, to protect the civil liberties of the global super rich who see the booming housing market in the South East as nothing more than an exclusive casino where they always get to win.  And so the number of empty homes in London is now back on the rise despite a desperate housing crisis and record numbers sleeping on the streets.  That’s what this government calls freedom.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Shocking New Figures Reveal The Collapse Of Social House-Building In London

mayfair

London’s housing crisis is set to escalate even further as figures show the construction of new socially rented homes in the capital is collapsing.

Statistics from the Department of Communities and Local Government reveal that the number of new socially-rented homes that began to be constructed in the city fell below 5000 in the most recent year for the first time in over a decade.  There were just 4,790 new social home-build starts in 2015/16 compared to 7,860 in 2010/11.  London’s population soared by around half a million in that period.

The figures for the most recent quarter are especially troubling, recording just 660 new starts in the latest period, a fall from over 2000 in the first quarter of 2015/16.

As alarming as these statistics are, they only tell half the story.  Many of these new homes will be ‘affordable’ rather than priced at social rents.  This means that rents could be as high as 80% of those in the local private sector, whilst they may also be let on fixed five years tenancies.  Some local authorities are now prioritising these homes for what they call ‘key workers’ – meaning teachers, coppers and social workers.  This is not social housing in a form that anyone would recognise.

Astonishingly London borough’s are also selling off social housing stock leading to a loss of 4000 homes in 2014/15, many due to Right To Buy.  The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham flogged 418 social houses between 2010 and 2015 and replaced them with just 170 new homes.  Construction did not begin on one single socially rented home in this borough in 2015/16, and the same applies to Kingston Upon Thames, Harrow and the City of London.

Homelessness is soaring in the capital with the number of people sleeping on the streets at record levels.  Appallingly the number of empty homes has also hit a seven year high, no doubt due to luxury flats being built as investments and then left unused.  And what are our elected officials doing about this crisis?  If they were doing fuck all that would be bad enough.  The truth is most of them, Labour or Tory, are making things worse.

Next week will see Labour councillors joining the the Tory Housing Minister Brandon Lewis to suck up to property developers and estate agents at the London Real Estate Forum.  The event is backed by the new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and is being held in Mayfair – the multi-millionaire’s ghetto where the rich live in total isolation of the chaos they are creating in the lives of many Londoners.  They will not be there to discuss growing homelessness, soaring rents or the demise of social housing.  Instead they will be discussing how to further lines their pockets from the carnage.  Every fucking vulture in the world has their eyes on London’s last remaining social housing estates.  Deals will be done, the right people paid off, and our communities will be smashed up even further.  It is vital that these parasites are opposed.

A day of protest against the event is emerging beginning with a morning demonstration outside at 8.30am.  Then at 1pm Class War are calling for revenge with a mass noise protest outside the forum in Berkeley Square.  If you want your kid to have somewhere to live when they grow up then be there.  If you would like to be able to retire in the city you have lived in all your life be there.  If you are worried your council home is under threat or are sick of paying eye-watering rents to private landlords, be there.  If you just hate fucking toffs, be there.  Advance to Mayfair.  Bring the fucking noise.  Spread the word – June 14, 1pm Berkeley Square.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid