54 and out of work: how the DWP hounds you to amuse itself

Reposted from Kate Belgrave

Thought I’d spend a few pre-budget days rolling out more transcripts from interviews with people on the rubbish end of Tory austerity.

This one is yet another story about jobcentres and useless back-to-work activities (the transcript is at the end):

I went to one of the northwest London jobcentres last week to hand out leaflets with the Kilburn unemployed workers’ group … and I spent a long time talking to an older bloke (he was 54) who said he’d been in the jobcentre for an hour writing his CV with an adviser.

We’ll call this guy Keith. Keith was in the Work Related Activity Group for Employment and Support Allowance. He told me that he’d worked for much of his life in engineering as a fitter, but that all came to an end after a bad car accident about a decade ago. “Now I can’t do it. It’s physically impossible, because I’ll be in and around machines and all. That [accident] was the end of my engineering days. That finished me for a while and then I was really down.”

I give you this work history, because Keith reported it. I personally couldn’t care less whether people have worked or not, or what their histories are. As time goes on, I care less and less. If people are 50+, disabled and at a jobcentre, they’re a) usually in need at that moment in time, b) unlikely to get work because they’re on the scrapheap as far as employers are concerned and c) going to be written off as scroungers whether they worked all their lives or not. Those are the only relevant facts these days. Nothing else that people have or haven’t been or done counts.

Anyway, I ramble… Atos had, of course, found Keith fit for work, in a relatively recent assessment. Keith had managed to get that decision overturned on appeal. He was placed in the WRAG group for ESA. WRAG is the ESA group that the DWP wants to get rid of  – their latest move in what is a none-too-subtle campaign to eliminate disability benefits altogether, along with the concept that some people just can’t work. Because he’s in that Work Related Activity Group, Keith must turn out to the jobcentre every few weeks and engage in completely pointless “work-related” activities.

I say “completely pointless” because that is exactly what those activities are. They’re not about getting people into work. They’re about making sure that older, disabled people like Keith are constantly prodded. Nothing else. They’re just prodded. They’re not helped into decent, decently-paid work, or anything as romantic as that. They’re prodded and needled and nudged and got at, and that’s about that. Keith told me that his adviser happily conceded that the CV-writing was not about getting a job, but just an exercise to complete to meet government requirements. “[The adviser] said – “well, you done your CV and you’re covered. As far as the government is concerned, you’ve done your thing. Just do it” Keith said that he must return to the jobcentre in a few weeks’ time to participate in another “activity.” There’ll be more after that. I imagine Keith is being lined up as fodder for this or that privately-provided work course, or similar purposeless bollocks. On and on it goes.

I’m not telling you this because I want to tell you a sob story. As I said, I don’t know enough about Keith to know whether his story is sad or not, or what he has or hasn’t done in his life, or who he is, or what his attitude to life or work is. None of that is relevant. I am also perfectly aware that no amount of Sad or Tragic or even Likely To Die will see the political class conceding that Keith or anyone else deserves a benefit, so we’ll park that one there. I am talking about systems – absurd, aimless systems. I’m telling you this story to show you again the jobsearch and work-related and workfare activities so cherished by modern governments like ours are so often an absolute charade.

I really have met a great many people at jobcentres over the last few years who’ve said something to me like “I’m here [at the jobcentre] today because they’re going to send me on a work course/work programme/workfare job/fuck knows what and I have to go.” A few months later, we see each other again and they say pretty much the same thing. From time to time, someone gets a job through their own efforts. The really “lucky” ones end up in a short-term, low-paid job or workfare thing somewhere or other and are told to be grateful for it, because everyone who enters the world of work is saved forever and will be granted a great life from that point (even when the work is so badly paid that people can’t meet their bills with it. The whole thing is complete shit).

The rest just turn up to their jobcentres to take part in pointless activities because they have to. I’ve attended jobcentre and work programme meetings myself where advisers have cheerfully admitted that the work-related activity they’re proposinghas nothing to do with finding employment. The activity is a futile exercise that must be gone through so that the JSA or ESA claimant can get another measly benefit payment while being made to grovel for it. Sometimes, advisers don’t even seem to care if people are conscious for the activity. That might sound a bit cute, but it’s actually true – earlier this year, I attended a work-related interview at a jobcentre with a man who was on ESA (in WRAG) and so exhausted and up to his eyeballs with the meds he takes that he went to sleep during the interview. The jobcentre adviser didn’t seem to care at all. The point was to make this guy attend the session, not to achieve anything during it. I got the feeling that the adviser welcomed the down time – a quiet interview being easier to deal with than a confrontational one, etc.

Anyway. I suppose Keith might ultimately find a job, but at best, it’ll be something low paid and difficult. I know we’re all meant to be grateful for the chance to grind it out in a hard job for £6 an hour into our 50s and 60s, and probably 70s and 80s at this rate, and maybe some people are grateful for that, but – yeah. I’m getting on in years myself and I seriously hope that the home straight doesn’t line up like that for me.

Keith, 54:

“They’re driving me nuts in there. I just started to do a CV. I’ve been in there an hour, I’d say. I’ve never had a CV in my life, but it’s just something that they said I have to do. I don’t know what they want to do with it. They said I have to have an email [address], because that’s what the government tells them that I have to have.

“I had to go to this Atos thing. I’m in the group now that they’re helping me back to work. I got ESA and I’ve got to come in for all this. I keep telling them – well I can’t do this and I can’t do this, but they said – well, you still have to go through all this.

“I appealed that decision [Atos found Keith fit for work a couple of years ago]. My appeal was granted [and I was put in the Work Related Activity Group], but they put down on my appeal that I shouldn’t be seen by anyone for three years. But now that I am in this WRAG, I do have see them.

“I have to see the bloke downstairs now in three weeks’ time I think it is. They do my CV and put it into the computer. I said I don’t have a computer and they said “Oh well, you’ll need an email address” and all this. I told them I don’t have an email address. I do now.

“It’s unbelievable what they put people through to be honest with you. I’m 54. I had a bad accident. I was hit by a car and it broke my legs and ligaments as well, on the road. I was four months in hospital. It was a nightmare thing to go to this tribunal and in front of the judge. When they said “your appeal has been successful,” they said that I didn’t have to go outside or anything and I thought I’d be all right for a while.

“Atos found me fit for work, so that’s what I appealed. Since this Atos thing I’ve been through – I know that an awful lot more of people have been put through that. It is random, because you’re seeing someone who has really got no qualifications and Atos gave me nothing. Everything was fine [they said] there was nothing wrong with me at all. Then when I saw the tribunal I got the points, so who is deciding?

“There would be other ones that just couldn’t put themselves through it. I was worried about going through this appeal thing and I’m strong, but I reckon there would be a good few people who said “No, not for me.” Now, I got to do my CV for them. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next time. The bloke I see downstairs, he was all right, actually. He said “well, you done your CV and you’re covered. As far as the government is concerned, you’ve done your thing. Just do it.”

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Inheritance tax giveaway to feature in first Tory budget alongside welfare cuts

Reposted from The Guardian

The UK chancellor George Osborne
The chancellor, George Osborne, first pledged to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m while in opposition. Photograph: Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty Images

George Osborne is planning to use his first Conservative budget to lift all but the very richest households out of inheritance tax on the same day he sets out billions of pounds in welfare cuts.

The move will allow a couple to pass a house worth up to £1m to their children or grandchildren. The chancellor will create a £175,000, tax-free allowance per person for their main property on top of their existing £325,000 allowance that can be applied to all assets.

His intention to lift all but the wealthiest homeowners out of inheritance tax was first revealed when sensitive Treasury papers were leaked to the Guardian before the last budget, which concluded that it would “most likely benefit high income and wealthier households”.

The Conservative proposals were later confirmed by David Cameron during the election campaign and became a key plank of the Tory manifesto championing a “Conservative dream”.

At the time, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said the proposal would disproportionately benefit wealthier people and could have a negative effect on the property market if elderly homeowners were discouraged from downsizing.

The changes, likely to cost about £1bn, will be paid for by reductions to tax relief on pensions, possibly through lowering the amount available to top-rate taxpayers from £40,000 to £10,000 a year on a sliding scale. The IFS has said this would “affect a relatively small number of high-income individuals”.

It is understood the plans have now been amended to allow pensioners to move into smaller homes without missing out on the £1m relief on their former properties. A new mechanism will mean that if someone sells their main residence and buys one that is cheaper, they will get the allowance up to the value of their previous home.

Osborne’s decision to bring forward the proposals in his first budget since the Tories won a majority is a sign that it is high on his list of priorities, eight years after he first pledged to raise the threshold to £1m while in opposition as the shadow chancellor.

Many within Labour are likely to use the announcement to characterise theConservatives as being the party of tax cuts for millionaires in the same way as they did when Osborne lowered the 50p income tax rate to 45p under the Conservative-Liberal coalition.

Under the current rules, inheritance tax is charged on estates worth more than £325,000, rising to £650,000 for couples, because the rate is transferable between those who are married or in civil partnerships. It is charged at 40% of the excess value of assets above the threshold and is paid by the estate of the deceased.

The new proposals raise the rate to £500,000 by introducing a new zero-rate band of £175,000 on a main property when it is passed on death to a child or grandchild. This would create a £1m limit for couples because it would also be transferable and mean that 94% of households are exempt from the tax.

Osborne is expected to set out details of much of his proposed £12bn cuts in welfare in the same budget, which will be delivered to parliament on Wednesday.

Cameron has strongly hinted that one of the cuts will be reductions to tax credits, after he gave a speech saying he wanted to end the welfare “merry-go-round” whereby wages are topped up by state handouts.

There have also been reports that Osborne would like to go even further than his plan to reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 and perhaps cut it to £20,000 outside London.

Separately, the chancellor is under pressure from a group of about 160 Conservatives to reduce the top rate of tax further for those earning more than £150,000 a year from 45p to either 42p or 40p.

It is possible he could also announce reforms to the non-dom status, including raising the annual charge and stopping its hereditary nature. Labour had pledged to abolish the status in a popular announcement during the election campaign.

At the time it was announced, the IFS described the inheritance tax pledge as special treatment for homeowners.

A briefing note said: “Since the children of those with very large estates are disproportionately towards the top of the income distribution, the gains from this [and in fact any] IHT cut will also go disproportionately to those towards the top of the income distribution.”

Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, then told the BBC that it was “rather odd to give this special treatment to housing given that owner-occupied housing is already extremely tax privileged”.

He said: “This will only increase the bias we have towards putting your money in a house, to inflating potentially the value of housing, without dealing with the lack of housing, which is driving up the value of private residences.”

Before the election, Chris Leslie, the then shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said it “cannot be a priority to spend £1bn on a policy which the Treasury says would not apply to 90% of estates”.

He said: “The Tories would choose to give a £140,000 tax cut for a house worth £2m while they have increased VAT on families and pensioners.”

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Debbie Abrahams MP Calls Slow Disability Payments “Unjust And Inhumane”

Originally posted on Politics and Insights - kittysjones :

536738_306169162785952_999031084_nOldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams is calling for an end to the ‘injustice of delayed payments to disabled and terminally ill people’.

Mrs Abrahams has spoken in a Westminster debate detailing her concerns about the quality of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), how assessments are processed, and the huge toll slow payments are putting on thousands of disabled people and their families.

In her speech, the Labour MP said: “Along with other Labour MPs I welcome welfare reforms where we can see there will be genuine benefit.

“But the PIP process has been beset with problems since it was introduced – the toll of process cannot beoverestimated.”

The National Audit Office report, which came out in February last year, described it as a ‘poor early operational performance’ with ‘long uncertain delays’ for new PIP claimants.

At that time, the average wait was 107 days – for terminally…

View original 361 more words

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Freedom of Information – Michael Goves part in its’ downfall.

Reposted from FoI Man

FOIMan explains why he is worried for the future of FOI as a result of the Justice Secretary’s comments yesterday.

Ministry of JusticeNews reports over the weekend suggested that the new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, was planning a renewed attack on FOI. Well now we know for certain.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Gove responded to questions from MPs about the media story that he thinks “we do need to revisit the Freedom of Information Act.” I’ve indicated before that I thought FOI would receive more attention this Parliament, but Mr Gove’s comments are particularly concerning as they seem to indicate that he is inclined to go further than the news stories suggested.

Anyone familiar with recent FOI history will have expected that this majority Conservative government would attempt to amend the fees regulations to make it easier for requests to be refused on grounds of cost. Indeed such an intention was expressed nearly three years ago when the government responded to the Justice Select Committee’s post-legislative scrutiny of FOI. The fact that the last government failed to follow through on its intentions appears to have been the result of a rearguard action by Liberal Democrat ministers.

Furthermore, David Cameron indicated after the Supreme Court’s ruling over Prince Charles’ letters to ministers that he wanted to change the law to reinforce the ability of the government to veto FOI disclosures. With the inconvenience of a general election out of the way, it would appear that there is little to stop his Justice Secretary from pursuing this desire now.

When the news stories emerged over the weekend, I paid little attention. As I’ve suggested, these moves were always likely now that internal opposition has been removed. I’m not happy about the idea of an enhanced veto or reduced cost limits, but I had already conceded to myself that such changes were probably inevitable in the current political climate.

However, Michael Gove’s comments yesterday appeared to indicate that he wants to go further than the “two-pronged assault” predicted in the media. He said:

“It is vital that we get back to the founding principles of freedom of information. Citizens should have access to data and they should know what is done in their name and about the money that is spent in their name, but it is also vital that the conversations between Ministers and civil servants are protected in the interests of good government.”

Mr Gove appears to be making a distinction between “data” such as how much is spent by a government department, and “information” which might include correspondence between government officials. This suggests a far more draconian restriction on FOI than we had been expecting. It seems likely that the exemption protecting the formulation of government policy may come under scrutiny. At present, the exemption is subject to a public interest test, which means that on occasion – not regularly – government departments are ordered to disclose such information by the Information Commissioner or the courts. The most likely change therefore is that the exemption may be made absolute – more difficult to overturn. As the Campaign for FOI has commented, this would be bad enough and would chip away at the fundamental principles of our current FOI law. But it is hard to discount anything from Mr Gove’s comments, which appear to suggest that this “review” of FOI may be more comprehensive than many had suspected.

Mr Gove’s comments are particularly ironic bearing in mind that he made them on the same day as a speech in which he argued that:

“The rule of law is the most precious asset of any civilised society. It is the rule of law which protects the weak from the assault of the strong; which safeguards the private property on which all prosperity depends; which makes sure that when those who hold power abuse it, they can be checked; which protects family life and personal relations from coercion and aggression; which underpins the free speech on which all progress – scientific and cultural – depends; and which guarantees the essential liberty that allows us all as individuals to flourish.”

It appears now that we breathed a premature sigh of relief in 2012 when the Justice Select Committee’s report turned out to be more supportive of FOI than we had expected. The biggest threat to the UK FOI Act is here and now.

Whatever your interest in FOI, if you believe that it ought to be stronger, not weaker, consider supporting the Campaign for Freedom of Information. Over the coming months there will be other ways to express our views, but ensuring that the Campaign can bring its expert knowledge and determination to bear is a good way to start.

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Tories want you to believe people choose to be poor and disabled

Reposted from Vox Political

“It’s now been revealed that £12bn worth of welfare cuts will be included in next month’s budget, with even more rolled out in the autumn spending review.

Such cuts are based on nothing more than the Tory myth that poverty is a choice which people can be scared or starved out of. Osborne’s logic appears to be that if the Tories make life for poor people insufferable, they will simply choose to be well-off. As such, poverty is a lifestyle choice or a moral failing.

Read more here


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The REAL benefit cheats.

Reposted from The Guardian on line

a Tesco branch
In the last year, Tesco has cost the Treasury £364m in pay-rate supplements. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty

I really don’t know why the government is making such heavy weather of cutting £12bn off the benefits bill. That sum, and much more, could be cut at the stroke of a pen – though it would mean that the government would have to put its money where its mouth is and make it a legal requirement for employers to pay the living wage. If a company really can’t afford to, then it’s the company that should be applying for supplements, not the people who work for it.

Cameron wants to curb in-work benefits. No wonder: just £8bn on benefits goes to the unemployed, while an estimated £76bn, according to James Ferguson of Money Week, goes to people who are working. The government says this shouldn’t be happening. Cameron insists employers should be paying wages people can live on – which, funnily enough, is the sort of thing unions say, although they no longer have any power to make it happen.

It’s what Labour says, too, now the party is out of power. When it was in power, it avoided confrontation with employers offering poverty wages, and with the unions, by kindly offering to make up the difference between the minimum wage and a living wage via the benefits system.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. The Tories excoriate Labour because Labour accepted the Conservative idea that employers should be freed from the burden of social responsibility. Labour spent a lot of money on protecting employers from such irksome duties. The Conservatives still don’t want to impose such irksome duties, but don’t want to stump up for the hefty bill that ensues from failing to do so either.

Just one of the woeful consequences of Labour’s drive to support employers by supplementing employees is that it makes the figures look like the Department of Work and Pensions is showering taxpayers’ money on the feckless, when it is actually showering taxpayers’ money on businesses. Employing someone has come to be seen as such a noble pursuit that businesses are paid to do it. Businesses don’t, of course, complain that this interferes with the free market. Money spent supplementing wages should be coming from the Business and Enterprise budget, with companies vetted to assess whether they are justified in offering pay below the living wage. Those who are can be offered loans to cover the difference, repayable in much the same manner as student tuition fees. They are hiring staff to grow their own businesses, after all. Such entrepreneurial risk-taking is seen as admirable. But when the taxpayer is taking on so much of the cost, and the benefit-receiving employee is getting so much of the blame, there’s really only sheer nerve and hypocrisy left to be admired.

Businesses, of course, would hate having to admit that they expect the state to prop up their poverty wages. They despise “red tape”, after all. Although that doesn’t stop them employing individuals who must submit themselves and their families to miles of red tape and minute government scrutiny because their wages aren’t enough to live on.

Work in the retail sector is notoriously badly paid, so it should be no surprise thataround £11bn in in-work benefit is paid each year to people working in retail. Employees at Next receive more money in pay-rate supplements than the company pays in tax (about £2,087 per low-paid worker). In the last year, Tesco has cost the Treasury £364m in pay-rate supplements. Cameron talks about dysfunctional merry-go-rounds of tax and spend. But the culprits aren’t ordinary people scraping by. The culprits are employers milking the system.

The in-work benefits system also encourages businesses to employ lots of people part-time, rather than fewer people full-time. A couple has to work 24 hours a week to qualify for in-work benefits, and a single person 16 hours. The more part-time people you employ, the more the government is supplementing your payroll, and the easier it is to get competent staff on the cheap.

Much of the reduction in unemployment seen over the last couple of years is because people are taking part-time work when they would prefer full-time work. The government may trumpet the decline in unemployment. But its complaints about the cost of in-work benefits are an acknowledgement that the Department of Work and Pensions is paying out a lot of cash to make that happen.

A system that minimises costs while maximising profits is bound to result in a mismatch between what people earn and what it costs them to live. This tendency can be seen most clearly in the housing market. In 2009-10,according to House of Commons figures, 478,000 people with jobs claimed housing benefit, at a cost of £2.2bn. By 2014-15, it was 962,000 and £4.6bn, and it’s set to continue rising if things don’t change. What things?

It’s endlessly said by everybody that the social housing supply has to increase. But no one seems willing to take their valuable piece of land and render it much less valuable by building social housing on it, when they could keep it as an asset or sell it to private developers instead. Private landlords are the obvious beneficiaries.

But again it’s the person claiming the housing benefit that is seen as the problem, not the person who wants the “market rate” when the market isn’t paying it. Again, the person making the profit gets the benefit, rather than the person who doesn’t have enough income to put a roof over his head. Just as it’s time to restrict state benefits paid to employers via employees, it’s time to restrict benefits paid to landlords via tenants.

The Conservatives, I’m afraid, seem to do nothing at all in government except complain that Labour spent too much money on mitigating the effects of the previous Conservative government’s policies. Employers are allowed to set wages and landlords allowed to set rents without regard to the amount of money people have to live on. The least the state can do is be honest about the amount of state money that is spent on defending the right to make profits, instead of blaming the hapless citizens from whom the profit is wrung.

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Iain Duncan Smith brands petition for death statistics “disgraceful”

Reposted from the Mirror on-line

What’s disgraceful Mr Smith is your refusal to publish these statistics and the only thing “frightening people” are YOUR harsh policies!

He’s fighting a legal battle to keep the figures secret – yet the Work and Pensions Secretary claims Labour MPs are just ‘frightening people’

Iain Duncan Smith has attacked a ‘disgraceful’ effort to reveal the number of people who died after being declared fit for work.

The Work and Pensions Secretary lashed out after coming under fire over the figures – which his department is waging a legal battle to keep secret.

More than 200,000 people have signed an online petition by ex-welfare advisor Maggie Zolobajluk, 63, calling for the figures to be made public.

But instead of addressing it he’s made a furious attack on Labour, two of whose MPs rounded on him in the Commons yesterday.

He accused the opposition of ‘going out every day scaring and frightening people’ and ‘deliberately misrepresenting’ the government’s fit-for-work schemes.

Clash: Iain Duncan Smith came under fire from Labour MP Debbie Abrahams (left)

And he attacked Labour because the party introduced the work capability assessment in 2007, before the Coalition expanded it.

MP Marie Rimmer asked him: “May I ask again why the Government are refusing to publish – even though the Information Commissioner has instructed them to do so – the up-to-date statistics relating to the number of people who have died, having been found fit for work at their face-to-face assessment?”

Mr Duncan Smith replied: “I find it absurd that Opposition Members deliberately try to misrepresent what happens under such schemes.

“I remind the honourable lady it was her Government who introduced the employment support allowance and the work capability assessment, and at no stage did they say that that led to people committing suicide.

“People in that situation are often in a very delicate and difficult position, and I find it disgraceful that she is going round making such allegations.”

Under pressure: 200,000 people have joined a petition against Iain Duncan Smith

That made MP Debbie Abrahams thunder: “Does the Secretary of State think that he and his Department are above the law?

“Why does he refuse to publish the details of the number of people who have died within six weeks of their claims for incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance, including those who have been found fit for work?”

But Mr Duncan Smith said: “I find it unbelievable that she, the honourable lady and others have spent all their time trying to make allegations about people going about their work.

“It is a crying shame that Labour members want to go out every day scaring and frightening people. It is no wonder they lost the election.”

He also claimed his department ‘doesn’t collate the numbers’ at all – appearing to fly in the face of his own officials’ advice.

Maggie ZolobajlukMaggie Zolobajluk
Movement: The petition was started by ex-welfare advisor Maggie Zolobajluk, 63

His civil servants have openly admitted they collect the data, have published it before, and are planning to publish more in the future. Read the full ruling here.

The Coalition’s welfare changes saw people told to find work despite having chronic illnesses – some of whom died before getting their benefits back.

Tragic Mark Wood starved to death in David Cameron’s constituency four months after his benefits were cut – weighing just 5st 8lbs when he was found.

And ex-nurse Jacqueline Harris, 53, took her own life after she was ruled fit to workdespite having slipped disks in her back and severe pain.

Petition founder Ms Zolobajluk said: “I could see what was happening in the community. It was so predictable. These cuts came in and left people feeling helpless.”

The request to release the figures was made under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner Mike Sivier.

He asked how many people who died between November 2011 and May 2014 had been found ‘fit for work’, or told they could move towards getting work.

DWP chiefs said they were preparing to publish the information in their own time, and it’d be unfair to rush them – but Information Commissioner Christopher Graham ruled they’d acted unreasonably.

Click here for the full petition.

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