Category: London

Universal credit delays a factor in sex work, government accepts

Minister apologises for DWP memo dismissing link between long waits and survival sex work

Patrick Butler – Guardian

The government has dropped its hardline refusal to accept that destitution caused by five-week waits for universal credit payments has been a major factor in forcing some women to turn to sex work.

Giving evidence to the work and pensions select committee, the minister for family support, Will Quince, apologised for a memo his department sent to the committee last month and said it “did not very well reflect my views on this issue”.

The memo dismissed evidence that universal credit was a cause of increased numbers of women turning to sex work as anecdotal. It said the phenomenon was influenced by a range of factors, from drug addiction and the rise of AirBnB to EU immigration.

Quince told the committee he had changed his views after hearing accounts from four women who gave evidence of how impoverishment related to universal credit issues had led them to take up escort and brothel work.

“Those very brave testimonies of the young women who have gone through the most horrific of experiences gave me a better understanding through their lived experiences. What it showed me more than anything is we need to better understand this area,” he said.

A transcript of the private committee hearing in May included a testimony from M, a brothel worker. She said the fact that drug and alcohol drove people into survival sex work did not mean that universal credit had not caused “a really big influx”. She said: “It is particularly bad with universal credit because we have seen these huge waits, but the whole welfare system is stacked against us and it is pushing people into survival sex work.

“It is the long wait, it is the payments in particular that I think are really dangerous because when we apply for things like this we are in crisis already, like we don’t have the ability to wait, and sex work is the only real job you can go out and earn money that night.”

T, a care worker, who went into escort work after using food banks during a six-week wait for her first universal credit payment, said: “It is horrible to say, but it is the easiest thing to keep us girls alive.”

Another witness, K, said she had worked out she would be £200 a month worse off on universal credit. “I will sell my body. I want to tell this committee that there are a lot of girls out there just like me,” she said.

The committee also heard an unexpectedly positive, if qualified, endorsement of the recent report by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston, who last month called austerity cuts the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, responded at the time by saying the report was politically biased. She alleged that Alston did not do enough research, having only visiting the UK for 11 days, and said the government would complain to the UN.

Donna Ward, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) senior civil servant responsible for children, families and disadvantage, told the committee chair, Frank Field, that it had fact-checked Alston’s report, which had in passing referred to a rise in survival sex.

“He made a lot of good points. It was factually correct,” she said. “I think where the secretary of state took issue with it, and where I as a civil servant can’t be involved, was the political interpretation of a lot of what’s happened.

“But in terms of the facts, in terms of austerity, cuts to local government, in terms of the reliance that we have on the labour market and the risks we face if there is a recession – all of those things were really good points that we have taken on board, and we should take on board.”

Suicide note blamed Bromley Jobcentre

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BY TOBY PORTER – SOUTH LONDON PRESS (toby@slpmedia.co.uk)

The suicide note of a man on benefits who took his own life blamed a DWP official for allegedly putting the idea in his head. Martin John Counter, then 60, of Cotton Hill, Bromley, was being investigated over whether it was legal for him to claim sickness allowance while having a tax-saving account – an ISA.

He died on September 5, 2018 in his bed – his family believe after taking pills – and left a suicide note which named the official who mentioned suicide in a meeting with him.

He had been unable to work because of ME, psoriasis, and then in 2015 a perforated colon, because of which he had to be put in a coma for four weeks. He also had arthritis, for which doctors regularly prescribe methotrexate.

His suicide note said: “Thank you, [named individual] for putting suicide in my head. “I know I did not answer that question in my ISA but that was probably due to my post virol syndrome and that Dr G methatremte causing fatigue, exhaustion, lack of concentration.

“There was a breakdown at the face-to-face meeting when I did inform you of the ISA but I thought might be tied to the house. “I lose concentration when on the phone and work somewhat better face-to-face.

“I never have had a suicidal thought till you for some reason brought it up. Was it a twist of the knife? “If the ISA had been mentioned I would have stopped the claim, sold the house and moved to probably Eastbourne and invested the £1,500.00 and be on more money the ESA. I would have had to sort the house out in ill health to do it.
M Counter.

“So sorry to family and friends.”

Mr Counter had attended a meeting, under caution, on June 19, 2018 after Bromley’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) office found out he had an ISA.

He made a payment to the DWP of £24,000 in August – virtually all the funds in his ISA.

Mr Counter’s brother Alan has asked to know if he made contact with the DWP in August/early September, and the content of any emails or discussions, which he believes holds the key to his suicide.

Alan told the inquest on May 13 he believed the criminal investigation into Martin is what drove him to kill himself. He has asked on September 12, through the estate’s executor Angie Albrow, for a copy of the June 19 recorded interview.

The DWP has since denied receiving the request or Ms Albrow’s September 20 letter providing proof of her being the executor.

The coroner at Mr Counter’s inquest, Xavier Mooyaart, has now taken the highly unusual step of intervening on Alan’s behalf.

He has written to the Bromley job centre in Elmfield Road, saying: “While the reasons for Mr Counter’s decision to take his own life are outside my jurisdiction, I am concerned that his family’s requests for information have not only been addressed but apparently ignored. “I would be most grateful if you could provide them with all assistance and explanation possible.”

Alan said: “The Metropolitan Police had previously stated to me that without firm evidence they were unable to investigate further.

“The coroner said from the outset the purpose of the inquest was to determine the who, when and how but the why but not the cause of why Martin took his life.

“So I am very grateful for his intervention. I did not expect it. The police have also offered to raise the matter. I was very impressed with the reaction of everyone who heard what had happened.

But the DWP has been sitting on the matter for nine months now. If they have done this to me, how many others have they done it to.”

Martin’s MP, Janet Daby, has also written to the DWP following up Alan’s request for departmental date; and had a reply, dated April 10, 2019, from correspondence manager Mary Marshall.

We contacted the DWP on May 8 and were told on May 10 that a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our deepest sympathies are with Mr Counter’s family. We cannot comment further ahead of the inquest.”

The day after the May 13 inquest we again contacted the DWP. There had been no reply by Tuesday so we called to pursue the query giving a deadline of 12.30 pm yesterday.

The response then was as follows: A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Counter at this difficult time.”

Concerning the documents Alan Counter had requested by recorded delivery but not been given, she later added: “As we haven’t got explicit consent, we can’t give you any more details re Mr Counter’s case.”

Launch of Commission on Social Security and CALL FOR SOLUTIONS

A breakthrough project – a Commission on Social Security aiming for radical change to the way the system works and led by the claimants themselves – was launched in London this week (click on heading below):

Call for help to design a social security system of dignity, respect and trust

If you click on the link below it should take you straight to the online Call for Solutions form – deadline for submissions 31st July.
PLEASE LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK – YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

How to Complain to the Jobcentre or DWP

 

dole-queue(photo: Johnny Void)

As a jobseeker or if you are on ESA, claiming  benefits can often unfortunately be problematic. Problems claimants experience include delayed benefit payments, behavioural issues with Jobcentre staff and long waiting times to get through to the DWP’s helpline.

We encourage you to make a written complaint.  The ‘official’ DWP advice is explained in the link below:

http://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions/about/complaints-procedure

It says that you can complain in person or on the phone to the Jobcentre. However, this often goes wrong, as you do not have your own written proof that you made the complaint.

So, we advise you to take the following easy steps:

  • Write down your complaint in an email
  • Include a sentence where you offer to verify this email i.e. show it is from a ‘real’ person. The DWP have a policy to ignore emails that cannot be verified. For this reason, we recommend that you state the following in your complaint email:
    “I am happy to verify this email in person with my ID.”  Don’t forget to add your National Insurance number and personal address to identify your claim.
  • Write ‘Complaint’ in the subject line of your email
  • Copy in a friend who you can trust in the email
  • Send the email to: correspondence@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
  • Allow 15-20 days for a response (15 days is the stated DWP waiting time for responses)
  • If you have no reply by then (or an unsatisfactory one), you can then write to: ministers@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
  • Wait another 15-20 days. If this  does not work for you, you can then complain to the Independent Case Examiner and after that through your MP to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. These stages are explained in the DWP ‘Complaints procedure’ weblink above

Tips for writing your complaint:

  • Don’t swear
  • Don’t make unfounded allegations (i.e. be sure to have something to back up what you are saying)
  • Describe what happened to you (calmly like a neutral witness)
  • Explain what should have happened
  • Explain what you think should happen now (to resolve the situation), or simply ask them to rectify the situation.

Why Complain?

Because it is important to inform the DWP about problems, so that they can understand that improvements are necessary. By doing so, and by copying in a friend or somebody who you can trust, you are creating a written record of your case and evidence of what you said and when, and it will be harder for the DWP to ignore your complaint or claim that they never received it. You CAN get results!

Further help: 

LUS is a campaigning organisation fighting for a quicker, more efficient complaints process for claimants.

Due to our limited resources we are unfortunately not able to do casework. But please contact your local Citizens Advice, Law Centre, trades union or other advice agency if you need further help with writing the complaint. Or if you live in these areas, join one of our local Stand Up For Your Rights groups in Southwark, Waltham Forest or Islington – or set up one of your own! Contact nickplus007@gmail.com for more information and guidance on this.

Relevant links:

http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/about-the-dwp-our-service-standards-leaflet

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/complaints_and_responses#incoming-802719

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/complaints_processing#incoming-803514

For other comments, such as compliments or feedback, the DWP gave these contacts:

Contact Centres ccscustomerfeedback.handlingteam@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
Helpline helpline.customerservices@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Have you experienced issues with the DWP or Jobcentre as a jobseeker? Comment below or tweet us @LUSACTION and share your views.

STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS – Free Training for Claimants on 20 May

Nick Phillips of London Unemployed Strategies will be holding a training session for Lambeth and Southwark benefit claimants on Friday 20th May between 12-2pm at Stockwell Park Community Centre. Please come along to learn about the changes to the Universal Credit system, avoiding sanctions and details how the Housing Bill will impact you. The Lambeth and Southwark branches of Unite Community will kindly be supporting us. 20160309_104033 (2)

London Mayoral Elections and The Housing Crisis

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As Thursday 5 May rapidly approaches, it’s essential to understand the crux of the manifestos of the main candidates in the running for London Mayor and the direct impact they will have on you. The vital issue in this election is resolving the London housing crisis. How will the candidates protect and create homes for the vulnerable? So, let’s see how they all measure up and how your vote will count:

Zac Goldsmith – The Conservative Party

  • will tackle the housing crisis by ‘doubling home building to 50,000 a year by 2020’, giving Londoners the first chance to buy new homes built in the city.
  • Ensuring a large number of new homes built are for rent and not for sale.

For full manifesto, please see https://backzac2016.com/

Sadiq Aman Khan – Labour Party

  • will give Londoners ‘first dibs’ on affordable housing, promotes the fact he grew up on a council estate and therefore claims to understand the support needed in this area.
  • Ensuring renting becomes more reasonable and protecting the green belt.

For full manifesto, please see http://www.sadiq.london/

Caroline Pidgeon – London Liberal Democrats

  • Will ban ‘unfair letting agent fees’ and give tenants more rights.
  • Will build 200,000 new homes.

For full manifesto, please see http://www.londonlibdems.org.uk/plan

Sian Rebecca Berry – Green Party

  • Promises ‘truly affordable homes’ created by housing associations and local councils, claims to understand the needs of private tenants as a private tenant.
  • Providing London with more green, affordable energy for their homes.

For full manifesto, please see http://www.sianberry.london/

Thursday 5 May 2016 is for you to use your voice as you see fit. Please contact your local electoral office for further information on voting hours.

Let us have your views – Tweet us at @LUSACTION, comment below or follow us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/LUSACTION.

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