At the end of this month, the Department for Work and Pensions will be releasing their Annual Report, and Iain Duncan Smith and his henchministers will no doubt be touring the TV studios to deliver more propaganda about worklessness and disability.
We’ve decided to celebrate the release of the DWP Annual Report by releasing a report of our own.
It is a report into how the DWP and DWP Ministers have made claims which are simply untrue. We’ve selected 35 claims and and found clear evidence that these claims have no basis in the facts.
So when you next see Iain Duncan Smith on the TV News, ask yourself, is he lying? or is he simply making it up out of thin air again?
As the deadline for the Government to haul the Welfare Reform Bill through parliament draws dangerously close and its implementation looms large I want to make sure that YOU know how it might affect your life.
It is a government and media peddled myth that this bill is about the unemployed. It’s not. This bill will affect millions of employed people as well as millions of disabled adults and children. This bill is not designed to solve the problems of worklessness and benefit dependency as I will explain. this is about money, money for the treasury that none of YOU will see a penny of.
The Welfare Reform Bill will pave the way for Universal Credit which will replace the following benefits (of which some of YOU will be in receipt of)
Income Based JobSeekers Allowance
Income Based Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Child Tax Credit
Working Tax Credit
Disability Living Allowance DLA will be replaced with PIP (Personal Independence Payments)
If your household has a higher rate tax payer you will no longer be entitled to Child Benefit.
Council Tax Benefit will be the responsibility of your local authority who will be required to save 10% of the budget annually, therefore reducing the amount of people who claim that particular benefit. Pensioners are protected.
The Social Fund will be abolished. Funds for this kind of financial help will be the responsibility of local authorities. The funding will not be ringfenced so councils are free to use it in any other area. Currently anyone can apply for a crisis loan, even YOU.
So, if you use any of the above the government are after YOU!
It’s you they want to move out of the area, it’s your children they want to go to another school, its your shopping money, rent money, bill money they want to take away, not just mine.
Don’t forget the benefit cap. £26,000 a year, that’s £500 a week and £18,200 or £350 a week for a single person without children. (read the equality impact assessment) I can hear you screaming now, regurgitating that rubbish ‘hard-working families don’t earn that much!’. You are absolutely right because if you were earning £26,000 a year you would also be receiving child tax credits if you have children, working tax credit, perhaps housing and council tax benefit as well and of course child benefit, so in reality your income would be a lot higher than £26,000 and your child benefit can’t be taken away if you naughty people dare to receive more than £500 a week. Get the calculator out and work out how much YOU get or should get in benefits!
I’d like you to remember that when thousands of families are forced out of other areas into yours you will have real problems finding cheap accommodation because there will be more people and less available houses. There will be more children in the schools, more strain on local services including the NHS. When you scream that those ‘scroungers’ should move out of London, remember, they’re coming to your town or city sweetheart. It’s also worth noting that many people who currently live in rural areas will suffer and have to move as well. You’re local authority will also be paying for the cost of temporary housing and the other costs that come with homelessness if anyone in your area is evicted because of these changes. It’s far cheaper to just scrap the cap. Housing benefit was capped a little while ago anyway. at a maximum of £400 a week for a 4 bed property, £250 a week for a 2 bed property. Single people under 35 only qualify for the shared room rate, which previously applied to under 25′s. That has already seen people evicted from their homes. The ‘family friendly’ Tory party have also made it a lot harder for non resident parents to have overnight access to their children by reducing the housing benefit available to single under 35′s. A far better solution would be to cap private rents, that would save the government a fortune in benefits but some of them are landlords so maybe not.
God help you if you or your relative is disabled or ill. The Government don’t like you. They don’t like your disabled friends or neighbours either. If you are unfortunate enough to get cancer the government have decided that you have 12 months to be cured, otherwise, if your partner earns the enormous sum of £7,500 a year they’ll cut your ESA completely. (That applies to anyone claiming it by the way but we hoped cancer patients might at least be exempt from this nasty condition)
They will replace DLA with PIP which most people wont be eligible for even though they have serious illnesses and/or disabilities. Those people will be told they’re simply not ill or disabled enough and will be left either appealing, which is a very long distressing process, or left without. Just in case you read the daily mail I can tell you, hospital visits, additional aids to manage with illness and disability and day to day living requires extra financial help for many people in that position. I know from experience with disabled and seriously ill relatives that these things cost money many simply don’t have. Also the ‘free cars’ you have read about aren’t free, they’re paid for with the mobility component of DLA so people are actually paying for them with the money they get to help them. I’d say that’s fair, wouldn’t you? It’s worth bearing in mind that DLA is not means tested.
The Government also decided it would be a lovely idea to cut the disabled element of tax credits (Universal Credit when it switches) in half for disabled children who receive the lower rate of DLA. Delightful. That means people like one friend I have won’t be able to afford the petrol for her car. Her son can’t use public transport for various reasons, her car means she can take him out instead of staying in all day. It means she can safely take him to school and the family can lead a normal life. No petrol means an extremely difficult time doing the everyday things YOU take for granted.
On the subject of disabled children, the Government have decided it’s a good idea to prevent young people who have never worked due to disability from being able to claim contributory ESA. Currently they can.
There will now be a penalty for ‘under-occupation’. If you have a spare room and you receive housing benefit you will now be penalised for it, even if it’s for your kids who stay at the weekend, or to store any equipment you need to help you live a full life, such as a wheelchair or a commode. You’re going to be charged for that even if you’d like to downsize but can’t because there are no available properties in your area.
There are a few other gems in the Welfare Reform Bill that haven’t been very widely publicised. Yes, I’m a geek, I read the entire bill, twice actually.
When your youngest child reaches 5 years old you will have to get a job. You will no longer just attend a work focused interview, you will sign on and get a fortnightly interrogation, so if you have a full time job, hang onto to it dear.
Such things as work focused interviews will look like a fairytale compared to the conditionality in store for you under the Welfare Reform Bills proposals.
Being in work is not a safeguard against DWP intrusion. There will be in work conditionality as well.
If you do not work enough hours or earn enough money DWP will be well within their rights to haul you into the jobcentre and tell you to increase your hours, get a second job or beg your boss for a pay rise. Yes really! If you do not comply you can be sanctioned (I’ll get to sanctions in a minute). So be afraid, be very afraid.
Now, sanctions. For a first sanctionable offence you can have your benefits stopped completely for a month (4 weeks). You can ask for a hardship payment but you will have to pay that back, it’s not free and won’t be as much as what you would normally receive. For a worse offence you starve for three months, for a serious offence you lose everything for three years. Yes, that’s right, three years! You should also be aware that DWP staff on the frontline are given a quota of how many people they have to refer for a sanction currently, whether those people have committed an offence or not, so you could be completely innocent and still lose out for a month, three months, or three years. Sanctions don’t actually work anyway. There has been much discussion in the commons. Chris Grayling says the Government plan to exclude child and housing costs from any sanctions but still, three years is a long time.
Conditionality does not stop there either. You can be required to improve your personal appearance. Quite what that could entail I do not know. It could be anything from have a bath, washing your clothes or remove your piercings, cut your hair etc. There are no specific details in the bill:
6C Work preparation requirement
(1) In this Act a “work preparation requirement” is a requirement that a
claimant take particular action specified by the Secretary of State for the
purpose of making it more likely in the opinion of the Secretary of State
that the claimant will obtain paid work (or more paid work or betterpaid
(2) The Secretary of State may under subsection (1) specify the time to be
devoted to any particular action.
(3) Action which may be specified under subsection (1) includes in
(a) attending a skills assessment;
(b) improving personal presentation;
(c) participating in training;
(d) participating in an employment programme;
(e) undertaking work experience or a work placement;
(f) developing a business plan;
(g) any action prescribed for the purpose in subsection (1).
The section above also states you can be forced to undertake work experience/placement. That, I assume, means the work programme. Working for your benefit, essentially for free. (If there’s enough work available for the work programme there’s enough work for a proper job).
There is a clause in the bill which states:
6 (1) This paragraph applies in relation to an award of universal credit where the
calculation of the amount of the award includes, by virtue of any provision
of this Part, an amount in respect of particular costs which a claimant may
(2) Regulations may provide for liability to pay all or part of the award to be
discharged by means of provision of a voucher.
(3) But the amount paid by means of a voucher may not in any case exceed the
total of the amounts referred to in sub-paragraph (1) which are included in
the calculation of the amount of the award.
(4) For these purposes a voucher is a means other than cash by which a claimant
may to any extent meet costs referred to in sub-paragraph (1) of a particular
(5) A voucher may for these purposes—
(a) be limited as regards the person or persons who will accept it;
(b) be valid only for a limited time.
So ladies and gentlemen, if you are awarded Universal Credit DWP are well within their rights to pay you in vouchers for ‘particular costs which a claimant may incur’. Someone else may know better but as far as I know that could be food, clothing and rent. I had no idea I lived in America. I don’t know if this only applies to special circumstances.
We should not forget changes to the way the CSA works. This applies to those of you who may become a single parent in the future or who have a precarious personal arrangement with a non resident parent (NRP), whether you work or not. The Government originally wanted to charge you £100 up front to access the service (£50 if you’re on benefits). They ‘promised’ to change that to £20. They also want to take between 7% and 12% off every single payment destined for your child(ren) from the NRP. So if your child receives £100 a month from your ex, they will, in reality, only get between £93 and £88 a month instead. The Government will be pocketing the rest. No one knows what’s round the corner, any of you could find yourself bringing up children alone.
Also, if you make a claim while in a couple, an error is made and repayment is required, any claim you make either alone or jointly with someone else will be liable for the repayment if it has not already been repaid.
Being part of a couple does not exempt either of you from conditionality, in work or not. You will both be required to conform to the same rules or face sanctions when your child(ren) are a certain age and when your youngest is 12 you will both be required to work full time, there will be no option for one of you to have part time hours. Welcome to the end of one of you staying at home to care for the children, or being there when they leave for school or return home, there will be no designated care giver, you both have to go to work now. Of course your long hours and lack of family time will be blamed for the ‘feral youth’ but only after lone parents have received a good dose of demonisation first.
No one is sure how childcare will work. Currently working families can claim a childcare element of working tax credit which allows for up to 70% of your childcare costs. The details of future arrangements are not clear.
Personally, I’m bricking it. My plan was to try and work part time when my youngest started school (providing there’s an actual job to have!) but part time is out of the question now to avoid the in work conditionality. I have a 2 choices, pay for childcare (providing I have sociable shifts, I don’t know any childminders who start at 5am!), or I make my oldest child sacrifice her own future to become a substitute parent to her younger brother and sister. That’s the girl who wants to go to college and university and really make something of herself. I could ask her to stop all that and please Mr Iain Duncan Smith by being my unpaid childcare. Or`I could find a rich man willing to take on me and the kids, sell my soul for money. That might please the Government. Decisions, decisions.
Iain Duncan Smith was reported today at The Broken of Britain blog as having used the accessible loo at a Covent Garden studio causing a disabled person to have to wait in some pain. While that was undoubtedly an embarrassing moment for him it looks that he was not overly welcomed when he was down under either.
Iain Duncan Smith photo supplied
Simon Collins from NZ Herald called him “UK hatchet man:
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader and now a Cabinet minister, is speaking at the Maxim Institute’s annual Sir John Graham Lecture at the Heritage Hotel.
Ms Bradford, a former Green MP, said Mr Duncan Smith’s “horrendously damaging” welfare reforms in Britain, which include cutting housing benefits for thousands of low-income families, inspired many of the proposals by economist Paula Rebstock’s Welfare Working Group in NZ. Government decisions on the Rebstock report are expected before this year’s election.
Hilary Stace asked :
Why is he visiting and why should New Zealanders to be vigilant about his message? The answer is that the New Zealand government is about to drive through similar welfare ‘reforms’, otherwise known as cuts, following the work of its Welfare Working Group which was appointed in 2010. The WWG reported on 22 February 2011, an hour before the destructive Christchurch earthquake. The signs weren’t good.
Many of us have been watching with horror as the welfare ‘reforms’ have been rolled out in Britain. The justification is that there is something evil called ‘welfare dependency’ that many poor and disabled people and single parents suffer from, and which can only be cured by paid work, preferably fulltime.
Mr Duncan Smith expressed his underlying assumption for this policy – that welfare dependency leads to ‘worklessness’ (not the other way around). But I suggest there are two basic things missing in this equation: the role of the government to create jobs; and the role of the state in ensuring the dignity of all its citizens. He did not apologise for, or even acknowledge, the role of neoliberal policies under Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher which destroyed industries and millions of jobs. Yet he claimed that one million people will be lifted out of poverty by these reforms.
These assumptions are underpinned by an absolute belief in the moral good of paid work and the lack of value of any other kind of work including voluntary work or child rearing. The Tory minister said that it is very important for the child of a single mother to see his/her mother go off to paid work every day as that would normalise ‘work’ for the child. The only unresolved question, he suggested, is what age that should happen. In New Zealand proposals the child could be as young as 14 months. In Britain it is five years old.
When a member of the audience asked about creating work he replied with a sigh that he thought we had moved beyond that question. He said it is the private sector’s job to make jobs and the state’s only role is to make things easy for the private sector to do that. He claimed that the private sector had created half a million jobs in the last year but – wait for it – British people didn’t want them so they had gone to ‘immigrants’. So if the hundreds of thousands of unemployed British people are ungrateful and lazy, what does that say about disabled people?
For disabled people in Britain currently on welfare the first step out of ‘dependency’ is an assessment for ‘workfitness’ (a term that harks back to eugenics). To assess the ‘workfitness’ of disabled people, a private multinational company, Atos, has been contracted to do a tick box computerised assessment without any contextual information such as mental health or disability history. Depending on what an individual scores they can be placed in three categories: work fit and ineligible for even basic employment support, work fit with employment support, and not work fit (ie unfit). It is easy to imagine how aspects of a condition such as autism are overlooked by medical questionnaires which ask questions such as can you walk, or dress yourself. There are incentives such as rewards of additional contracts for the company to push people off the welfare system, and its profits are currently at record levels. But it seems there have been so many challenges to the insensitive and inaccurate assessments that the system can’t cope.
As well as workfit tests, there are also cuts to other aspects of the welfare system such as allowances for housing, programmes, and disability support including such things as continence supplies. There have been reported suicides, and regular reports of disabled people suffering because, for example, they can’t afford adequate housing and families unable to get supplies for their disabled children.
Mr Duncan Smith has also distorted the concept of social justice, with its implications of equity, inclusion and bottom up social policy, by using it for the name for his own right wing think tank, the Centre for Social Justice, whose purpose appears to be championing policies to inflict social injustice on the poor and powerless.
It is rare for us here to have the chance to get up so close with someone so powerful, so I listened carefully. After all, there is the equivalent of the population of NZ on welfare in Britain, out of a population of 62 million. He is a very smooth and persuasive talker, obviously clever, and had the look of someone who has been well nurtured with a comfortable life; I suppose you don’t get to be head of the Conservative Party without these attributes. So how can he justify the misery and pain his policies are so clearly causing? He is not evil and is clearly genuine concerned. One of my interests is ethical public policy*; I think that the only way powerful people can inflict such policies on other people is by seeing them as ‘other’ not fully human, or objects of scorn or laziness. Interestingly, in Britain the opponents of these policies have adopted the black triangle – the Nazi symbol used to classify the ’workshy’, one of their ‘othering’ labels – as their campaign symbol.
So at question time I asked Mr Duncan Smith whether it worried him that his policies might be hurting real people. He initially didn’t agree, blaming misinformation campaigns and claiming disability groups had asked for these changes, but it clearly needled him. I think this is the way to challenge those whose policies risk hurting and harming other people – as human to human. And we need to keep doing it otherwise inequality and suffering will only increase.
Alternatively, we can always hope that politicians will actually ask real people for input into policy, and listen to the wisdom that comes from their lived experience. But not much sign of that happening.
We send this to New Zealand campaigners in support of their protest:
Disabled People Against Cuts stands in solidarity with New Zealand campaigners against poverty. As British Government Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith prepares to speak, disabled people in Britain want you to know the dangers of following a British approach to welfare reform and the threat that it represents to your equality, human and civil rights.
The Coalition government which came into power in Britain in May 2010 made rapid and sweeping changes under a welfare to work programme that targets the poorest and the most oppressed in British society. This programme is underpinned by a deliberate ideological policy of removing support from those in the greatest need. Meanwhile so-called austerity measures are disproportionately affecting disabled people. At the same time that local governments are removing support from disabled people, central government is re-assessing the benefits disabled people rely on to survive while imposing arbitrary targets set to reduce the numbers of claimants.
The Condem’s Welfare to Work vision has already costs lives. In June 2010 Paul Reekie, the Scottish author, took his own life. Laid out on the table next to him were 2 letters, one telling him his housing benefit had been stopped and the other telling him his incapacity benefit had been stopped. This is just one example of what is becoming an all too common issue. Senior government officials have acknowledged that the welfare reform programme will cost lives but they see it as an unavoidable consequence of a direction they are determined to pursue. In 2005 the previous government set a target of 2025 by which time disabled people should have equality. Without income, without housing, without support to leave the house or even to use the toilet, this target is completely unreachable. Moreover, government propaganda that paints all benefit claimants as scroungers contributes to existing discrimination against disabled people at a time when hate crime against disabled people is an extremely serious issue and the names and numbers of those killed through prejudice mount up.
Duncan Smith’s Welfare to Work programme does not represent value for money and cannot be excused as a necessary austerity measure. At the same time as a recent report commissioned by the government, found that the Access to Work programme makes a profit for the government of 48p for every £1 spent, the Department for Work and Pensions which runs the programme continued its policy of cutting resources to Access to Work, with the effect of denying support to disabled people trying to get in and stay in mainstream employment. The proposals for removing Disability Living Allowance and replacing it with a system which requires continual review for people with lifelong impairments will require investment at a level which can only be sustained by removing benefits from genuine claimants.
ATOS, a profit-making healthcare company, has been given a 300 million pound contract by the government to carry out work capability assessments on disabled people to review their eligibility for employment and support allowance (previously called incapacity benefit). ATOS works to a target of finding disabled people fit for work and ineligible for the benefit. In order to meet their targets they disregard information from medical professionals, GP’s, consultants and psychiatrists. The advisors look for any reason to remove support. In one example a man with a mobility impairment lived in a flat which was too small for his wheelchair. When at home he uses furniture to get himself around. His ATOS assessment used this as proof that he could manage without a wheelchair. ATOS assessments are notoriously inaccurate. 40% are overturned on appeal and, with representation, that level raises to 70%. In other examples soldiers returning from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and people with terminal cancer have been declared fit for work.
Money is being spent paying private companies to find ways to declare people fit for work when they are not and to take away benefits from the poorest and most powerless members of society. Rather than being an effective use of money, this is ideological, it is about pushing those people already on the margins of society even further into poverty and obscurity.
In Britain disabled people have not stood by and let this happen. We have mobilised and protested to defend our rights to the support we need to live an equal life. We urge campaigners in New Zealand to resist any attempt by their government to erode fairness and social justice the way ours has.