Category: UNIVERSAL CREDIT

CLAIMANTS SURVEY 2018-19

Key findings:

  • Satisfaction levels for claimants with the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) and JCP (Jobcentre Plus) have shown no significant improvement since our last survey of 2014. The 2014 Survey had a larger sample (approx. 400 – also on this site) but comparisons are still valid.
  • Islington respondents showed a higher level of satisfaction with their services than for the rest of London with some questions. But even there, the most positive ratings failed to peak beyond 44%.
  •  Female claimants felt significantly less well-treated and supported than males.
  • Sick and disabled claimants felt significantly worse treated.
  •  Claimants generally felt complaining about anything was at best ineffectual and at worst could lead to reprisals.
  •  Satisfaction levels varied a lot according to the particular Job Coach assigned to the claimant – David from Islington was praised by claimants by name more than once!

FOR THE FULL FACTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS GO TO:

Claimants Survey 2018-19 FINAL VERSION

Giving claimants a voice – the Commission on Social Security

Last month saw the launch of the Commission on Social Security (CSS).

There are various much-needed reviews and consultations going on at the moment – including that being done by the Labour Party – asking people what they think a radical alternative to the current social security system should look like.

The key distinguishing feature of the CSS however is that it is claimant-led: all the commissioners (numbering around 20) have current or recent experience as claimants within the social security system.

This is reflected in the underlying principles the Commission has developed, and the resulting questions they are asking people to respond to.

For example, one of the key principles is to “make sure everyone has enough money to live – and support extra costs, e.g. to do with disability and children.”

Another states that the system should be “involving people who have actual experience of the issues, including from all impairment groups, in creating and running the system as a whole.”

Stemming from the principles, the Commission asks questions around core issues such as “What should be done about benefit sanctions?” and “how should the system work out who should get sickness or disability benefits?”

There are disturbing echoes here of the first major attempt in Britain to give unemployed workers an organised voice.
The second conference of the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) in November 1921 in Manchester set out some key aims including

• Full maintenance of the unemployed at trade-union rates
• The abolition of “test” or “task” work for those in receipt of relief through unemployment
• The free unconditional provision of halls to enable the unemployed to meet
• Representation of the unemployed organisation on all employment exchange committees

Closest possible links between the NUWM, the trades unions and the Labour Party, were encouraged, for example to ensure the unemployed were not used as a “reserve army of labour” to drive down wages.

We say “disturbing echoes” since, nearly a century later, many of the NUWM issues raised seem similar and as radical as those included in the Commission’s review (or Call for Solutions as we have called it). This suggests that the status and plight of unemployed, sick and disabled workers has improved little or not at all during that time.

It almost goes without saying – but still needs to be said – that actual rates of benefits for claimants remain woefully inadequate to meet their needs. Regarding the issue of “tests” or conditionality for claimants to get what they need, this has clearly got worse in recent years.

Sanctions rates, at a huge peak a few years ago, were driven down partly thanks to campaigning groups such as Unite Community, Disabled People Against Cuts and our own project London Unemployed Strategies (LUS). But they have started to rise again in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out. Meantime the dreaded Work Capability Assessments have served to make life a living hell for many sick and disabled claimants who previously would have had more sympathetic responses from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to their situations.

As for unemployed representation at Jobcentre Plus level upwards (the modern equivalent of the “employment exchange committees” referred to by the NUWM), this sticks out all the more as a pipe dream. While the NHS constitution provides some legal obligation for it to consult patients over service development and delivery, the DWP has no such obligation to consult claimants directly – just a vague remit to consult their “representatives” which are defined by the DWP not as claimants themselves but as professional agencies such as Citizens Advice, Law Centres and so on. The idea that claimants can and should represent themselves, and have their views fully taken into account by the DWP has been a strong and ongoing campaign of LUS, which has been built into the Commission’s principles.

We do not have time here to go in depth into the role that trade unions can or should play in organising the unemployed. Clearly the NUWM of the 1920s was of the view that they should be organised independently but with strong links to organised labour.

This principle was then reflected in the surge of TUC unemployed workers centres in the 1980s, which did provide albeit briefly the physical space for the unemployed to meet and organise – one of the NUWM demands, which has again become a barrier today, given the price of renting rooms even within community centres.

More recently Unite has made great strides in recruiting unemployed workers directly into its Community section – a move which has not as yet been reflected in the policies of other large trade unions. Whatever one’s point of view, champions of the claimants’ cause welcome any initiative that can help them to organise and get representation, which should advance to self-representation and peer group support.

LUS has been instrumental in developing Stand Up For Your Rights Groups around London to this end, similar to the Claimants Unions which sprang up alongside the TUC centres in the ’80s. LUS supports the groups in getting their concerns and complaints expressed directly to the DWP at local and national level.

LUS therefore welcomes the initiative of the Commission on Social Security and is one of its co-chairs (alongside Ellen Clifford of Disabled People Against Cuts and Inclusion London). We invite all claimants and their supporters to visit the website http://www.commissiononsocialsecurity.com and click on the link near the top of the first page to fill out the online Call for Solutions form. The deadline for submissions is July 31.

If you want more information and/or you are interested in setting up your own Stand Up For Your Rights group then contact LUS on nickplus007@gmail.com/ (020) 7467-1283/07530 001653. Support offered is mainly London-based due to the nature of our funding (principally from Trust for London and the TUC London East and South-East region), though Unite Community should be able to provide support in other regions.

Nick Phillips is coordinator, London Unemployed Strategies and co-chair, Commission on Social Security.

 

ALMOST THREE QUARTERS OF PIP AND ESA CLAIMANTS WIN THEIR APPEALS

The success rate for PIP and ESA claimants appealing to a tribunal has risen again in the latest statistics published by the Tribunals Service.

An extraordinary 74% of claimants of both benefits won their appeals in the three months to March 2019.

For DLA, the success rate is now 66% and for UC 63%.

The figures represents a 3% rise for PIP wins from the same period last year and a four % rise for ESA.

The advantages of going on to appeal if your mandatory reconsideration (MR) is turned down are clear.

And with PIP MR success rates at just 18%, there is definitely a very strong chance you will be turned down.

So, it’s regrettable that both PIP and ESA appeal numbers are falling even as success rates rise.

ESA appeals are down by 39% from a year ago, whilst PIP appeals are down by 9%.

If you come across anyone who thinks that appealing is a waste of time, please do put them straight.

From BENEFITS and WORK:  https://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/about-us

 

Universal Credit and modern slavery

Universal Credit and modern slavery
By Bernadette Meaden
JULY 18, 2018
Could Universal Credit facilitate modern slavery? It seems almost inevitable that it will, and not unreasonable to believe that it is already doing so.

If Universal Credit works perfectly as designed, claimants must wait five weeks for payment, during which time some people will have no income whatsoever. In reality, the wait can be very much longer. People borrow to survive. They can borrow from the government, by getting an Advance Payment, but this is deducted from their benefit when it is eventually paid, making a low income even lower.

So, far from being a solution, Advance Payments, or the need for them, are a part of the problem, which is why in Universal Credit areas debt can become such a big issue. People are turning to payday loan companies and in some cases, they are turning to loan sharks – who are by definition, criminals. In a 2017 survey on Universal Credit, housing providers noted “The reported increase in the presence of loan sharks within our communities is alarming, but sadly not surprising.”

But you can’t get blood from a stone. People with a very low or non-existent income cannot indefinitely keep up with demands for extortionate interest payments. So, what is the next logical step for a ruthless criminal? They take payment in other ways, perhaps in the form of sexual abuse, perhaps in the form of labour.

The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), a national team that investigates and prosecutes loan sharks, recently explained how becoming indebted to a loan shark can lead to modern slavery. In a blog How loan sharks are menacing victims and forcing them into modern slavery, they wrote: “Loan sharks are criminals who charge extortionate interest rates and use callous methods to force people to pay the money back. The IMLT have encountered victims being forced into prostitution, drug dealing, and illegal money lending by the loan shark.

“Debt bondage, also known as bonded labour, is the world’s most widespread form of modern slavery according to Anti-Slavery International.

“Debt bondage occurs when people borrow money they cannot repay and are required to work to pay off the debt, resulting in them losing control over the conditions of both their employment and the debt.”

This explanation of debt bondage was a guest post for the website of theClewer Initiative which aims to enable the Church of England to detect modern slavery in communities and help provide support and care to victims. It is funded by the Clewer Sisters, an order of nuns founded in 1852 to help homeless women who were drawn into the sex trade.

So a religious Order which was set up in the absence of a welfare state to help the victims of poverty and exploitation may now find itself indirectly helping people forced into modern slavery by welfare ‘reforms’.

And it seems clear that this is a growing problem. In May this year, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority reported that the three most common nationalities referred to them for labour exploitation were Vietnamese, British and Albanian, and that “In 2017, the number of British potential victims increased substantially (362 per cent)”. The numbers are relatively small at the moment, but only 10 per cent of benefit claimants are yet affected by Universal Credit. The mass migration of millions of people still on legacy benefits has the potential to create havoc, particularly for people with physical and mental health problems.

And sadly, when a family is tipped into poverty and debt, it is not only the adults who become vulnerable to exploitation. There is increasing awareness of the ‘county lines’ system run by organised criminals. As the Children’s Society explains, “County lines – or ‘going country’ – is when gangs exploit children, some as young as 12, to sell drugs across county boundaries…Gangs deliberately target vulnerable children, such as those in care or living in poverty.”

It seems inevitable that as Universal Credit rolls out, more adults will be driven into the arms of loan sharks and potential abuse and exploitation, and more children will fall prey to the criminal gangs just waiting to exploit their vulnerability. A country with a properly functioning welfare state, with true social security, would not leave its citizens vulnerable in this way.

————

© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Unions and Claimants Demonstrate against Universal Credit

Trades unions, claimants groups and their supporters demonstrated outside Peckham Jobcentre last week (Friday) against Universal Credit.

The BBC are doing a series of  TV ‘specials’ in league with the DWP on the UC rollout. Peckham JCP is one of the few in the country (others in Liverpool and Manchester) that are being featured.

Nick Phillips, coordinator of London Unemployed Strategies, said: ‘It is important that the BBC does not do a whitewash job and ignores the voice of claimants. Trades unions, the voluntary sector and critically claimants themselves are here today in unison to say that Universal Credit is not fit for purpose. It needs to be scrapped or at the very least radically reformed to stop claimants further suffering.’

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!

Government shown evidence of link between welfare reform and sex slave trafficking; UN report also condemns

sex workers

Women are being “forced into selling sex” because they have few other options and live in fear of the state, an MP has warned.

Steve McCabe’s comments come after the Work and Pensions Committee held its first parliamentary hearing on evidence that welfare reforms, including Universal Credit, are linked to a rise in “survival sex”.

The Committee heard evidence from charities and support organisations directly supporting people, mainly young women and mothers, who are involved in sex work in order to earn enough money for living essentials, such as food or a place to stay.

MP Steve McCabe said most of the witnesses at the hearing were young women.
Mr McCabe, a member of the Committee, said the majority of witnesses who attended the hearing were living in fear.

He told Sky News: “The witnesses we saw in private were all young women. They felt they had largely been forced into selling sex as they had few other options.

“They were all the product of abusive relationships and/or childhoods.

“In some cases they are mothers with young children and live in fear of the state or the “authorities”.

Mr McCabe added that most of the women lacked basic computer and online skills and often had an incomplete education and issues accessing Universal Credit.

He continued: “They have missed many years of school although they are undoubtedly not stupid.

“They have problems accessing Universal Credit and a fear of the Jobcentre and the Universal Credit system and apparatus.

“Universal Credit is paid to one person in the household and this might well be an abusive partner. The Select Committee has persistently challenged the DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions] over this.”

Rise of ‘survival sex’
Women are exchanging sex for living essentials because of welfare reforms.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the Select Committee to respond to their call for evidence.

“With Universal Credit no one has to wait five weeks to be paid, as your first payment is available as an advance on day one.

“We continue to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable and have made numerous improvements to the welfare system since 2016.”

Universal Credit, a social security payment in the UK, has long been the subject of criticism, with warnings people are being pushed into debt, rent arrears and a rise in food bank dependency due to delays in payments.

The parliamentary hearing follows the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty’s visit to the UK.

In a report on Wednesday, Professor Philip Alston said there were 14 million people living in poverty in Britain and “record levels of hunger and homelessness”.

He said the government had acted on some issues he raised beforehand, delaying the rollout of Universal Credit and improving it.

But he added: “For all the talk that austerity is over, massive disinvestment in the social safety net continues unabated.”

Following the financial crisis in 2008, the government enacted spending cuts in welfare as part of austerity programmes to balance the books.

(From Sky News)