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Saturday, 29 April 2017

National Society for Prevention of Cruely to Children and 'Crown Immunity' over Department for Work & Pensions neglect

This blog post is currently a 'work-in-progress'


KUWG members heard a talk this week about the complexities of the Conservative Government's 'Universal Credit' (UC) that is scheduled to sweep over the nation by 2022, taking in Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Housing Benefit recipients as 'sanctions fodder' along the way. (Under UC, if you are deemed, say, to have not tried hard enough to increase your income sufficiently to the point that you don't have to receive components of UC, you may be sanctioned.[1]) So I asked our guest speaker: 
"If housing providers, say, can be obliged to pay legal compensation for letting down service users regarding nelects of duty, how about UC claimants being compensated by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) over UC performance failures such as the infamous payment delays?"(2)
Our guest speaker replied that the DWP would be covered against having to pay such compensation, thanks to something called 'Crown Immunity'.

And that got me to thinking along the lines of a theme that is currently developing on this blog now that a 2017 UK General Election has been declared, the theme of the role of registered charities regarding formulation and criticism of government policy.(3) Does the concept of 'Crown Immunity' dictate that the 'leading children's charity' not criticise implementation of Universal Credit, etc while apparently colluding with government to snatch children away from poor parents so that more affluent couples/families in a very economically unequal society can adopt them, in the American fashion?

NSPCC turning a 'blind eye' to welfare reformist 'neglect' and blaming the parents?

The National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is a registered charity.(4)
NSPCC: "Without help, the scars of abuse can last a lifetime"
Neglect is a form of abuse, and there are several types of neglect, including emotional neglect. Community Care magazine reported in May 2014:(5)
Sector split on 'Cinderella Law' as emotional neglect referrals to social services rise

Number of cases children’s charity NSPCC referred to social services rose by 47% in 12 months

The number of emotional abuse and neglect cases referred by the NSPCC to social services for investigation rose by 47% last year, figures have revealed.

Staff at the NSPCC’s anonymous helpline referred 5,354 cases of potential emotional neglect and abuse to local authorities for further investigation in 2013-14, up 47% from the 3,629 cases referred to councils in 2012-13.

The government is considering making emotional neglect and abuse a criminal offence. The so-called ‘Cinderella Law’ would see the 1933 criminal offence of child cruelty updated to include emotional abuse as well as physical abuse....
 But in Kwug Blog's view, that is a case of government ignoring its own sins and disregarding links between its policies and the trials and tribulations it is putting poor parents through with its 'welfare reforms' that are excused by the 'austerity' that it colluded with the instigation of for terms of the post-2012 banks collapse.

See also

Meacher Housing Bill public health amendment gets off to a flying start TAP lobbying Peers to pass it in March(6)

and

http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=schools+breakfast(7)

and
http://www.socialworkfuture.org/articles-resources/uk-articles/296-michael-gove-wrong-social-work-reform (8)

and consider how, when parents are neglected by more affluent 'decision makers' who take away the parent's incomes, the parents can have the emotional energy to spare for the children given all the demands the abusive state puts upon the poor parents?

Reference links

  1. https://scottishunemployedworkers.net/2016/07/15/sharing-knowledge-in-the-face-of-further-attacks/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/18/flaws-universal-credit-system-vulnerable-people-penniless-citizens-advice-study
  3. http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/revisiting-kwug-blogs-2015-uk-general-election-posting-pollsters-vision-excludes-those-offline.html
  4. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/  
  5. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/05/29/sector-split-cinderella-law-amid-rise-emotional-neglect-referrals-social-services/
  6. http://taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/news/meacher-housing-bill-public-health-amendment-gets-off-to-a-flying-start-tap 
  7. http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=schools+breakfast  
  8. http://www.socialworkfuture.org/articles-resources/uk-articles/296-michael-gove-wrong-social-work-reform

The 2017 UK General Election and Voter Registration

The General Election and Voter Registration

To vote in the General Election on 8 June 2017 you must be on the Electoral Register by 22 May 2017

By Megan Dobney of the Trades Union Congress

You don’t need to register again if you’ve already registered, but you might wish to check that you are on the Register. To do this your need to contact your local Electoral Registration Office. You can find contact details for it using the ‘postcode search facility’ on the front page of the Your Vote Matters website https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/

You should register to vote if you are:
  • 16 or over in England, (but you cannot vote until you are 18)
  • A UK citizen
  • A qualifying Commonwealth citizen; qualifying Commonwealth citizens are those who have ‘leave’ to enter or remain in the UK, or do not require such ‘leave’
·        A citizen of a European Union country living in the UK should register, but most cannot vote in UK Parliamentary elections
·        A citizen of the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, or Malta, who is resident in the UK, can vote in UK Parliamentary elections. The definition of ‘resident’ is complex and it is largely at the discretion of the person responsible for the local Electoral Registration Office. If you think you might be eligible to register and to vote in UK Parliamentary elections, attempt to register and make the local Electoral Registration Office make a decision
  • A citizen of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or a British Overseas Territory living in the UK. Gibraltarians resident  in the UK may not vote in UK Parliamentary elections
  • You may register if you are a student or a British citizen living overseas, you are one of the above and serving in the UK armed forces
  • You may register even if you have no fixed address
Please note that a non-UK citizen who is resident in the UK and is married to a UK citizen, is not automatically eligible to vote in UK Parliamentary elections. And not all people born in the UK are automatically UK citizens, children born in the UK after 1 January 1983 are only British citizens if either their father or their mother is also British or, and if both parents are foreign nationals, they are legally ‘settled’ in the UK.
More details about who is eligible to register and vote in different UK based elections is available at: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/43954/Part-B-Entitlement-to-register-March-2010.pdf
By the way, it is too late to register for the 4 May 2017 local elections.

·       register to vote
·       update your details; change of name or address etc
·       apply for a postal vote
·       ask for your name to be removed from the open register, if you are worried about your personal security
 
To register to vote using the online facility should only take 5 minutes. You will need your National Insurance Number and perhaps your Passport Number, if you have one.
 
You can also join the Electoral Register by post. The form that you need to complete can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/607718/Register_to_vote_living_in_england_and_wales.pdf

There are strong personal and political reasons for joining the Register. If your name is on the Register you can choose to vote, or indeed, choose not to vote, but if your name is not on the Register, you lose that choice. Citizens casting their vote in elections is a central part of our democracy. And it is not glib to say that men, and especially women, campaigned, fought and died to win the right to vote. In some parts of the world people are still fighting for democratic elections, so we should not take the right to vote lightly, or take it for granted.

Elections are your opportunity to determine the path of politics in your community and in the UK.

And if that is not enough to convince you, your local Electoral Registration Office could fine you £80 if you fail to join the register.

If you are resident in more than one place, you can register in multiple locations, but you may only vote in one at each election.

Everything you need to know about voting in the UK can be found at the Your Vote Matters website https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/ including the address and contact information of your local Electoral Registration Office.

Useful websites:

Your Vote Matters:                 https://www.yourvotematters.co.uk/
Electoral Commission:            http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/
Operation Black Vote:            http://www.obv.org.uk/

Megan Dobney
SERTUC Regional Secretary
TUC in London, the South East and the East of England
@mdobney

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Revisiting Kwug Blog's 2015 UK General Election post 'Pollsters' vision excludes those offline ?'

While republishing the below 2015 UK General Election posting from Kwug Blog archives, its author and editor notes that it is perhaps more clearly relevant today than it was in the 2015 UK General Election.

As stated below, opinion pollsters such as YouGov disenfranchise the digitally dispossessed from their reckoning, and digitally dispossessed folk are the most disadvantaged by Universal Credit claiming procedures.(1) The Department for Work & Pensions' premium rate tariff Universal Credit helpline exacerbates the poverty of those waiting at least six weeks for their first payment of Universal Credit; in the digital age, the phrase 'hand to mouth' has become "pay-as-you-go premium rate tariff helpline with 'I'll put you on hold while I speak to my line manager'" messaging.

Further, the now resigned from government and apparently not replaced Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud's attitude from the time that he was Labour's 'welfare reform guru' has always been that claimant error must be severely punished.(2) Global corporations with 'checkered pasts', however, have been recruited by UK Government to drive forward the implementation of Universal Credit.(3)

'Charitable status' and political bias

Clarity is further distorted by definitions of what is 'a charity' that can receive tax deductable funding and be subjected to the oversight of Charity Commissioners. In the run up to 2015 UK General Election period, the Charity Oxfam was severely censured for 'political bias' over its 'Perfect Storm' Twitter campaign.(4)
Oxfam 'perfect storm' poster attacked as 'shameful' by Conservative ...
The Perfect Storm — Starring: zero hour contracts; high prices; benefit cuts; unemployment; childcare costs

Emerging in the wake of that controversy, 'think tank' Reform UK currently announces as an alternating message on its home page: "As a charity, Reform will not be publishing or tweeting anything until after the general election."(5)
Reform: "As a charity, Reform will not be publishing or tweeting anything until after the general election."
 Alternating plaudits at the foot of its home page include:
"The country's leading think tank on public service reform."
— Rt Hon. Theresa May MP, Prime Minister (6)
Prime Minister Theresa May's plaudit for Reform UK
 "It is a pleasure to speak ... at Reform's conference on welfare, especially as Reform has produced so much innovative thinking on welfare over the years."
— Rt Hon Damian Green MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (7)
Work & Pensions Secretary Damian Green's plaudit for Reform UK

Is not Reform UK too close to the Government from which those two plaudits come? Where is its public accountability, as what Damian Green refers to as "so much innovative thinking on welfare over the years" and its key ideas contributors include Accenture, the main contractor for the Information Technology implementation for Universal Credit?

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is not 'a charity' with access to tax deductable funds, and is made up of benefit claimants 'on the bread line'; but it has been greatly aided by meeting weekly on the premises of a charity, the Kingsgate Community Centre in Kilburn.(8) Thus our wellbeing as a group is very much tied up with that of our hosts.

Benefit claimants have been told — falsely — "you will be better off doing paid work and your big problem for too long has been a 'dependency culture' and lack of incentive to work." The same Conservative Government — in line with its cuts in public funding — has cut off community centres' purse strings and unrented access to space and resources from local government; this is designed to make community centres "think more like businesses and less like dependents." As a consequence, Kingsgate is being obliged to research the needs of its surrounding community and its current users, gathering data with which to make bids for funding from the Big Lottery Fund.(9) Such reliance on competitive, short-termist funding applications effectively puts community centres and their staff more firmly into a 'precariat position', just while jobcentres are being cut to add to the isolation of those that this Government would clearly like to 'disappear'

On that 'current state of play' note, I close this foreword to revisiting the Kwug Blog's 2015 UK General Election post, 'Pollsters' vision excludes those offline?'

Pollsters' vision excludes those offline?

By Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Pollsters exclude offline folk

Can canvassing methods used by opinion pollsters such as YouGov be linked to increasing disengagement of disadvantaged voters? I think so, especially after having attended over three years of weekly meetings of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and read a recent New Statesman article that actually argues tha pollsters are not too powerful, Living by Numbers: YouGov and the Power of the Pollsters.(10)

Before online communication became more the norm than the exception, the opinion pollster companies in the UK used the landline telephone as their main interface with the electorate. That methodology excluded people for whom the landline telephone was not really financially viable and people whose security of tenure was also a major problem.(11)

Then came online canvassing of pollsters. That creates problems for something between 1/10 and 1/20 of people who come through the doors of a Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group meeting who cannot access a computer because of, say, epilepsy.

Leading pollster company YouGov's modern canvassing methods are now exclusively online and government funding for charities and public libraries has plummeted. Thus accessing the interactive world has become increasingly more difficult for such offline voters.

YouGov's strapline is, "What the world thinks." (11) Its Mission Statement reads:
“It is our ambition to supply a live stream of continuous, accurate data and insight into what people are thinking and doing all over the world, all of the time, so that companies, governments and institutions can better serve the people that sustain them”
The proposed Universal Credit registration method not only cuts DWP staff, but also cuts off folk who cannot access the online only registration method that includes having to sit at a computer for however long it takes the claimant to complete the application to register for Universal Credit.(12)

So how inclusive is YouGov's vision of 'the world'? And what is their attitude toward people who cannot access Universal Credit online?

And will such blinkered vision and an obsession toward government cost-cutting lead ultimately to online-only voting, that excludes those who cannot access the online world?

How can we best mobilise the offline voters in the 2015 UK General Election to help create a less exclusive world?

2017 Post Script

For what users of soon-to-disappear-into-digital-oblivion-if-the-current-government-is-not-stopped-in-its-tracks jobcentres really think, Kwug Blog editor highly recommends Kate Belgrave | Talking with people dealing with public service cuts.(13)

And a charity that helps people pick up the pieces of their lives that have been adversely affected by the rollout of Universal Credit is food banks charity Trussel Trust.(14)
"The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, announced that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people in crisis in 2016-17, up 6.4% on the previous year's total of 1,109,000.

"In areas where the full universal credit rollout has taken place, food bank referral rates were running at more than double the national average.

"The trust said the standard six-week-plus waiting time for a first benefit payment faced by new universal credit claimants was behind the rise in demand for charity food. As well as reliance on food banks, benefit delays had also led to common adverse effects such as debt, mental illness, rent arrears and eviction, the trust said.

"The trust called for an immediate reduction in the minimum six-week wait for a first payment, saying debt and uncertainty caused by being without income was a source of stress and anxiety for many clients, and had led some to lose their homes...."

What will the Charity Commissioners make of that report, published only this past week — i.e., shortly after the General Election announcement was made? What will Damian Green and the charity Reform UK make of it?

Notes

  1. http://camdennewjournal.com/article/universal-credit-claimants-stealing-food-to-eat-due-to-benefit-delays 
  2. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/04/living-numbers-yougov-and-power-pollsters
  3. http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/terms-and-conditions-in-too-commercially-sensitive-for-public-access-contracts-between-government-departments-and-corporations.html
  4. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11304223/Oxfam-rapped-for-appearing-to-be-politically-biassed-in-Twitter-campaign-by-charity-watchdog.html 
  5. http://www.reform.uk/ 
  6. http://www.reform.uk/
  7. http://www.reform.uk/ 
  8. http://www.kingsgatecommunitycentre.org.uk/
  9. Information given by Charles E Small, Kingsgate's new CEO to a recent KUWG meeting at the Centre. 
  10. Input from a business banker to a Business Enterprise Training course I attended as jobseeker around 1991 emphasised the importance of a loan applicant having a landline telephone when they evaluated a loan application. Their acronym for assessing the credit-worthiness of the applicant was 'PAPERS':
    P
    erson
    Amount
    Period
    Experience
    Rate (of interest) and
    Security
    Possession of a landline suggested that the applicant intended to remain at the address serviced by that landline for some time, he argued, and that the applicant was thus less likely to be a 'fly by night' customer.
  11. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/04/living-numbers-yougov-and-power-pollsters
  12. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/10/universal-credit-benefits-disaster
  13. http://www.katebelgrave.com/
  14. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/25/food-banks-report-record-demand-amid-universal-credit-chaos 
  15. https://www.trusselltrust.org/2017/04/25/uk-foodbank-use-continues-rise/


Monday, 24 April 2017

Terra firma benefits services closures leave the economically vulnerable more firmly in the lurch

Face-to-face benefits delivery service cuts have been going on for decades, Dude Swheatie of Kwug argues.

Jobcentre closures creates winners and losers, says Dude Swheatie
I would describe Honorary KUWG member Kate Belgrave as a 'benefits touring' blogger. Her latest blog post is DWP: "Closing jobcentres will improve the service."(1) Maybe those in the DWP and their allies in 'think tank' ReformUK who advocate 'digital jobcentres' (2) — and 'digital courts and tribunals and a lot else besides (3) — ought to go in for such 'benefits tourism' themselves, where they would meet users of terra firma [solid earth] jobcentres for themselves?

(Incidentally, Theresa May has described ReformUK as "the country's leading think tank on public service reform."(4) I am reminded of the saying, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?")

Clay Cross Jobcentre in Derbyshire that Kate writes about in her latest blog post (5) is by no means the only one facing closure and there are closer threatened jobcentres for Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group regulars. In January 2017 the Brent & Kilburn Times reported:
Jobcentres in Wembley, Kilburn and Neasden facing closure (6)
.... The sites in Olympic House in Wembley, Cambridge Avenue in Kilburn and Chancel house in Neasden, are facing the axe with workers facing redundancy or being relocated to other jobcentres.
The Department for Work and Pensions say the sites are being underused as four out of five claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and 99 per cent of applicants for Universal Credit submit claims online.

Jobcentres and benefit centres are covered by old building contracts which are now coming up for renewal after 20 years.

Some smaller jobcentres will be merged with larger ones, and others will be co-located with local government premises.

The closures, which union officials say will affect one in 10 job centres in Great Britain, are predicted to save the DWP £180million over the next 10 years,
the Brent & Kilburn Times reported.

What's behind all this?

Let us have a look at that DWP assertion:
The Department for Work and Pensions say the sites are being underused as four out of five claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance and 99 per cent of applicants for Universal Credit submit claims online.
Is 'digital by default' online claiming a matter of 'service user choice'? In June 2014 Elizabeth Rust reported in The Guardian:

When the UK goes 'digital by default', who will be left behind?

UK government services are going digital, yet often the people who need them are not able to access them. [17% of service users are left behind.](8)
I had a decades long history of claiming Unemployment Benefit and later Jobseekers Allowance before I ever claimed the disability benefit Employment & Support Allowance (Support Group) status. So with hindsight I am able to see how this move toward 'service user not seen and regarded as fully human' has crept in over the decades. In the early 1990's while our news services were focused on Russian bread queues, Department of Social Security offices were done away with and replaced by remote control offices. Claims offices for LB Brent jobcentre users were transferred to Belfast, and those for LB Camden jobcentre users were transferred to Glasgow, and chaos happened as claim forms got lost in the post. My old DSS office at Archway is now being developed as a block of flats by 'Exclusive Living' under that incidental piece of privatising public land.

I remember the 'death throes' of that building as a DSS office in 1991 even while the remote control offices were being introduced. Upon making a new claim for Unemployment Benefit I was kept waiting 12 weeks even then while my claim form had reportedly 'got lost in the post'. When I did force myself to visit that building after several weeks of waiting, I was told by my peers that I was not the only one trapped in that system melt-down, and that the previous day the building had got so overheated that it was closed down for health and safety purposes. (The windows of that building as a DSS office were never opened, reportedly so that claimants did not get the temptation to throw themselves out of one.) And it took me more than one day's visit to secure an emergency hardship payment.

(While the second place country for viewings of Kwug Blog in the past month have been from Russia — with the USA in first place — it is ironic that at that time the UK's corporate news media were strongly focused on bread queues in Moscow to the exclusion of such problems closer to home.)

Jobcentre workers have been like the supermarket 'checkout' persons inducting service users into 'self-service' operations that threaten their own jobs

In July 2006, Hertfordshire County Council Head of Money Advice reported in a then-regular column in Community Care magazine:
Jobcentre Plus wrong to deny use of paper forms(9)
Currently the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) apparently insists all benefit claims should be made over the phone or internet.

In the past couple of years, both the pensions service and the Jobcentre Plus network have moved towards a system of teleclaiming. This is despite the evidence that many pensioners find making claims over the telephone difficult. Working-age claimants of benefits, such as income support, incapacity benefit and jobseekers allowance, have fared even worse, as at least pensioners had an alternative when claiming pension credit, because paper claim forms for that benefit are still reasonably widely available.

Jobcentre Plus staff at local level, however, were giving out a clear message that paper claim forms for the benefits they administer no longer existed – and even if claimants were determined enough to get hold of a copy, it wouldn’t do them any good because the local Jobcentre would refuse to accept it.

Thankfully, common sense (and a clearer understanding of the law relating to benefit claims) has prevailed. The DWP realised that Jobcentre Plus staff were acting unlawfully in refusing to allow benefit claims to be made on paper claim forms. As a result, guidance has been sent out to all Jobcentre Plus managers, in the May edition of its Managers Update. It is worth printing the Clerical Claims Process – Standard Operating Model guidance in full, in case you come across any problems with your local office.
“Customers should always be encouraged to make new and repeat claims via the contact centres where possible. However, regulations give the customer the choice on how they make their claim and this means we must not refuse clerical claim forms...."
What happened to the telephone application process? It became oversubscribed, as Gary Vaux had reported in Community Care in February 2006:(10)
Pick up that phone!
In early November 2005, the newly appointed chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie, admitted to a House of Commons select committee that Jobcentre Plus was “failing badly” and had  a “huge, huge journey to make” in relation to meeting customer service targets for its contact centres.

Yet, by mid-December, Strathie felt she was able to announce in the foreword to its annual report that Jobcentre Plus  delivered excellent progress against a challenging set of objectives.

Strathie said the department was expected to achieve or exceed five of its six performance targets for the year, despite staff reductions of 5,000 in the year to March 2005.

When two such apparently contradictory statements are made within just a few weeks of each other, it’s difficult to see where facts end and spin starts....

How do you solve a problem like benefits helpline meltdown?

In November 2006 Community Care magazine reported:
Jobcentre Plus: Poor service continues(11)
Earlier this month, MPs slammed Jobcentre Plus for leaving 21 million phone calls unanswered in 2004-5. Despite government claims of improvements, stories of poor service continue to mount, argues Neil Bateman
Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is the arm of the Department for Work and Pensions that administers benefits and job search activities  or people under 60. It was set up in 2001 as a key part of the government’s welfare-to-work reforms, the aim being that people could obtain advice and help on benefits and job-seeking under one roof.

Since the announcement in 2005 that DWP had to lose 30,000 staff over three years, on top of other spending cuts in the department, concern has been growing in the social care and welfare rights fields about the deteriorating standards of service provided by JCP. There has been concern about the effect on vulnerable customers, particularly care leavers, those with sensory impairments and people with mental health needs who have greatest difficulty with the JCP one-size-fits-all approach to customer service.

Welfare rights advisers and social care specialists identify problems with JCP, including:
  • Delays in processing claims and changes of circumstances – six weeks is common – leaving people destitute.
  • Communications between different parts of JCP “not being received”.
  • Huge difficulty accessing JCP by phone.
  • JCP staff insisting that all benefit claims are made by phone, when the law does not state this.
  • Frequent refusals to communicate with third parties (despite the DWP’s good new policy on this).
  • JCP staff making basic errors in advice to claimants and when assessing their claims.
  • Inflexibility in how people are dealt with caused by JCP’s use of scripts for telephone enquiries and deficiencies in the content of the scripts.
  • Resistance by local JCP managers to consultation and dialogue with stakeholders.
There are exceptions to this, but the feedback was generally negative with many examples cited....
What's 21 million calls in terms of the scale of the problem? Well, in 2004/05, it amounted to 44% of all incoming calls to the JCP call-centre system.(12) Quite a big problem, in other words. And as Neil Bateman pointed out in that November 2006 article:
Paying for JCP’s failures
It is not just benefit claimants who are affected. There is strong evidence that advice agencies and social care agencies are also picking up the cost of JCP’s failures. Citizens Advice said workloads had increased as a direct result of problems and there was evidence that social services departments were often baling out people with no money because of JCP’s failure to deliver benefits on time or to make interim payments – there were even cases of people sent by JCP to social services for money.

Much time is also being spent arguing with JCP staff that they can indeed allow people to make paper benefit claims rather than having to phone a call centre – even in cases involving people in hospital receiving chemotherapy, those with serious mental health problems, people whose first language is not English or those who are deaf....(13)
I asked in this section heading, 'How do you solve a problem like benefits helpline meltdown?' The DWP's covert agenda answer is that you don't solve that problem, you demonise the claimants by way of 'public information campaigns' such as 'Targeting benefit thieves' that were prevalent at the time.

A later, telephone oriented twist on demonising claimants was the introduction of the sceptre of 'Voice Risk Analysis' screening of claimants. Gary Vaux reported in Community Care in May 2008:

Voice risk analysis makes claiming benefits more stressful(14)

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that it is pushing ahead with the introduction of voice risk analysis (VRA) in another 15 local authority housing benefit teams. But VRA is not a lie detector it’s simply a machine that measures changes in a person’s voice patterns, indicating “stress”. That in turn alerts the benefit official to probe deeper into the claim.

When used on President Clinton’s famous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” statement, a VRA machine recorded a “high risk” reading.
It’s already used by some insurance companies (Esure, Halifax and Provident among others) and no one condones benefit fraud so it must therefore be a good thing, right? Well – maybe not.

The advice sector is concerned that VRA is being trialled despite there being little evidence so far as to its effectiveness in comparison with more traditional methods of fraud detection. The research into its impact in the first seven local authorities to use it isn’t even due to be finished until August.

We also don’t know what effect it will have on genuine claimants – the “if they’re honest, they’ve nothing to worry about” line of argument misses the point. The fact that every call and every claimant may ultimately have to be screened in this way, with the assumption that you might be accused of being fraudulent on the say-so of suspect technology is enough to deter many genuine claimants. This is especially true of those who find claiming benefits stressful enough already....
Back in 2006 while I was regularly ringing the so-called Jobseekers Allowance 'helpline' I was under a great deal of stress. Working more than 16 hours in just one week over the Christmas 2005/New Year 2006 period as a part time care worker doing 'cover duties' for regular staff on vacation while submitting part-time earnings forms at my fortnightly signing on sessions at the jobcentre, I got screwed as Jobseekers Allowance wrongly claimed that I no longer qualified for the JSA benefit. (15)

Even in those days I would have long pauses while the helpline level bureucrat I spoke to referred to their line manager or supervisor and I was somewhat fortunate to be a landline user rather than on pay-as-you-go mobile phone tariff to a Universal Credit helpline. I would have longed for the comparative comforts of face-to-face help at the Archway 'Goulag'!

Now, as a Camden Council report has revealed, Universal Credit claimants are suffering not only long waits for benefits, but also rip-off pay-as-you-go mobile phone tariffs:
Universal Credit: Claimants 'stealing food' to cope with benefit delays (16)

.... The Department for Work and Pensions’ Universal Credit helpline set up to advise claimants on the progress of their claim is providing an unacceptable service. Telephone calls can cost up to 55p a minute [£33 per hour!] from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes. Wait times to speak with an adviser can be very long – one claimant in Camden has reported that their phone bill for a month was over £140, used almost entirely on calls to the DWP.
Now consider this: is not the telecomms industry complicit in this theft from economically vulnerable benefit claimants? There is enormous potential for industry to benefit from the real 'benefit theft' which is denying benefit claimants their entitlements and making life harder for workers as there is a fine line between what this Government calls 'incentivising' work but is really making people so desperate that they will settle for anything.

Might plummeting 'takeup' of benefit entitlements be one of Jobcentre Plus' real goals?

Maybe you ought to raise these points with candidates in the forthcoming 8 June General Election if you are a UK voter?

Link references

  1. http://www.katebelgrave.com/2017/04/dwp-closing-your-jobcentre-will-improve-the-service-people-who-use-the-jobcentre-no-it-wont/
  2. http://www.reform.uk/publication/the-future-of-public-services-digital-jobcentres/
  3. http://www.reform.uk/publication/the-future-of-public-services/
  4. http://www.reform.uk/
  5. http://www.katebelgrave.com/2017/04/dwp-closing-your-jobcentre-will-improve-the-service-people-who-use-the-jobcentre-no-it-wont/
  6. http://www.kilburntimes.co.uk/news/jobcentres-in-wembley-kilburn-and-neasden-facing-closure-1-4864912
  7. ibid.
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/23/when-the-uk-goes-digital-by-default-who-will-be-left-behind 
  9. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2006/07/20/jobcentre-plus-wrong-to-deny-use-of-paper-forms/
  10. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2006/02/16/pick-up-that-phone/  
  11. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2006/11/16/jobcentre-plus-poor-service-continues/ 
  12. https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmpubacc/1034/1034.pdf See p7 of 64 on the online viewing, p3 of the printed copy
  13. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2006/11/16/jobcentre-plus-poor-service-continues/
  14. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2008/05/22/voice-risk-analysis-makes-claiming-benefits-more-stressful/
  15. For more on the background to this case, see http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/benefit-claimants-require-firmer-safegards-not-tougher-sanctions.html 
  16. http://camdennewjournal.com/article/universal-credit-claimants-stealing-food-to-eat-due-to-benefit-delays


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Let us not help Theresa May bury the bad news about Universal Credit rollout, suicides and homelessness under a Brexit General Election

Yesterday's Kwug Blog carried a 'guest blog post' from Revd Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty.(1) Even in his mid-80's, Revd Paul is extremely prolific with his offerings and far quicker to respond than this disabled person. The best I can do to 'catch up with him' is generally to forward e-mail notifications of the Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) website on to the Kilburn Unemployed e-list, but even then be selective so as not to give vulnerable list members a sense of melt-down and information overload.(2)

The Kwug Blog 'guest contribution' posted yesterday, — A Universal Credit case study — however, included tabulated data that proved difficult to transmit by e-mail and provided valuable information about Universal Credit that the general public are largely ignorant about, and corporate mass media generally keeps buried while Universal Credit-related rent arrears can catapult the number of evictions from social housing.(3) It can take up to 12 weeks for a Universal Credit claim to be processed and thus for the claimant to get any Universal Credit income; yet under English Law, eviction proceedings can begin after just eight weeks or rent arrears.(4)

Revd Paul Nicolson does not keep his incisive light buried under a bushel, and though his latest offering by e-mail has not yet made it to the TAP website, I can help here to get the message out as soon as possible even while I was hoping to prioritise other things just now.

Referenda and General Elections are too often based not on real knowledge of issues, and the results are mangled in an unrepresentative 'first past the post' electoral system that is too influenced by the wealthy. Whatever the result of an 8 June General Election, it will not really be a mandate for what the people have heard too litlle of. I should add that while the KUWG focus is mainly on the benefits system while housing law is too complex for us to handle, TAP has a more extensive overview of things, and more specific to LB Haringey where Revd Paul lives.

With that, I shall just bring in Revd Paul's latest offering.

During election TAP will do what we do



--
HARINGEY COUNCIL TAXES BENEFIT INCOMES OF ITS POOREST RESIDENTS OF UK'S MOST DEPRIVED WARDS WITH 
LOW LIFE EXPECTANCY AND HIGH RISK OF LOW BIRTH-WEIGHT.

from the Reverend Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
No citizen without an affordable home and an 
adequate income in work or unemployment. 

93 Campbell Road, Tottenham, London N17 0BF, 0208 3765455, 07961 177889, 


Link references

http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/a-universal-credit-case-study-by-revd-paul-nicolson.html
http://taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk/
http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/a-universal-credit-case-study-by-revd-paul-nicolson.html 
https://scottishunemployedworkers.net/2016/07/15/sharing-knowledge-in-the-face-of-further-attacks/

Polls close 5pm on Weds 19 April in Unite the Union General Secretary 2017 election

Today is Tuesday 18 April. Polls close 5pm tomorrow in Unite the Union General Secretary Election 2017.

Some members of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group are members of Unite the Union's Community Section. If you are a Unite the Union member you are likely to have had your ballot paper through the post with reply envelope for sending off your vote with 2nd class postage prepaid. I sent mine off last Thursday, adding 10p stamp to bring the postage up to 1st class.

For something of my personal views on this election, see my previous posting
Unite Community General Secretary Elections 2017.(1) That posting gives links to the three candidates' campaign websites.

Link reference

  1. http://kilburnunemployed.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/unite-community-general-secretary-elections-2017.html

Monday, 17 April 2017

A Universal Credit case study by Revd Paul Nicolson

Guest blog post by Revd Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty

Universal Calamity 

Struggling to survive in Tottenham, with a history of depression.

Paid one penny to last next month because he earned £1109 last month. The Universal Credit is a nightmare for zero hours contract workers.

£317 a month UC standard allowance is the equivalent of £73.10 a week IS/JSA/ESA

The council charges him council tax at £3.40 a week or £14.75 a month

He has rent and council tax arrears due to a three month benefit sanction and irregular work. 

He is threatened with eviction when he inevitably gets behind.

We know that £73.10 a week IS/JSA/ESA has reduced in value since 1979, the increase was frozen at 1% in 2011 and it has not been increased since April 2015.




Link reference

--
HARINGEY COUNCIL TAXES BENEFIT INCOMES OF ITS POOREST RESIDENTS 
OF UK'S MOST DEPRIVED WARDS WITH 
LOW LIFE EXPECTANCY AND HIGH RISK OF LOW BIRTH-WEIGHT.

from the Reverend Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
No citizen without an affordable home and an 
adequate income in work or unemployment. 

93 Campbell Road, Tottenham, London N17 0BF, 0208 3765455, 07961 177889, 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The colonisation of 'lifestyle choices' in the name of 'welfare reform'

All too frequently in matters of 'welfare reform' that are really about the privatisation of the welfare state, we hear that poor people are poor because they/we have made 'poor lifestyle choices'.(1) The reality is more that the 'key decision makers' are completely ignorant at best, calous liars with their own agendas -- leading to huge lobbyist salaries for likeminded global corporations -- at worst.

An example of this is given in the false promises of Disability Minister Penny Mordaunt in persuading fellow-Conservative MPs to back new legislation that cuts to Jobseekers Allowance levels the amount of money people in the [sickness and disability benefit] Employment & Support Allowance Work-Related Activity Group have to live on each week.(2) These are people who are so disadvantaged by sickness or disability that they require more financial support to compensate for reduced chances of getting waged employment, while those advocating this cut in benefit level claim that the real problem is this group's lack of 'incentive' to do paid work.

As Disability News Service reports:(3)
... Penny Mordaunt had ... promised fellow MPs on the work and pensions select committee in November (pictured) that she was working on a package of measures to “mitigate the £30”, which she said would be in place “before April”.(4)

Facing fierce criticism over the cut, Mordaunt told the MPs that she was working at “ensuring that someone’s outgoings can be managed”, and at reducing their “non-work-related costs”, such as energy, broadband and phone bills.(5)

She told them: “I know what I need to do and I have put a large amount of resource in the department behind it, and I can only repeat that the more reassurance I can give on this the better.

“I am not in a position to outline chapter and verse, but I hope to be soon, and I very much understand what I need to do.”

She also said that she was “talking to energy suppliers, mobile phone companies and broadband suppliers”.

But when Disability News Service (DNS) asked this week what Mordaunt had managed to achieve in the four months since November, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggested that her only success was ensuring that new WRAG claimants would be told by their jobcentre work coaches how to secure the cheapest BT telephone tariff....
[A Department for Work & Pensions Spokesperson] declined to comment when asked if working with businesses “to harness the power of technology to ensure disabled consumers are better informed about the accessibility and inclusivity of products and services available” was another way of saying that Mordaunt was helping businesses to market their products to disabled people.
So, essentially, such bad government can be regarded as colonising disadvantaged groups for the benefit of global capitalism.

Understand 'the benefits jungle'

By contrast, London Green Party is hosting an event on Sunday 23 April toward helping caring people better understand 'the benefits jungle':(6)

Description

An information, casework and campaigning base about Universal Credit, the bedroom tax, benefit caps and cuts for disabled people. You can book your free place any time now.

The main speaker will be Barb Jacobson, who is a benefits adviser and coordinator of Basic Income UK and member of the board of Unconditional Basic Income Europe.

Background docs are on https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Mueihb7UdXJfgH91zjGYR7Cr-NWOzmghKGXPkkpfyHQ/edit?usp=sharing

Date and Time

Sun, April 23, 2017
2:30 PM – 5:00 PM BST

Location

Chadswell Healthy Living Centre
Lower ground floor, Chadswell Flats
Harrison St (off Grays Inn Rd)
London
WC1H 8LD
View Map


Though hosted by London Green Party, the event is open to non-Green Party members and members of other politicall parties who want to help people get what they require from the benefits system and to make the benefits system serve vulnerable people more than global corporations.

Even if we do not ourselves do casework as such, for whatever reason, we can gain insights that help us campaign better for social and economic justice.

Link references

  1. https://uk.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=%22welfare%20reform%22%20%22lifestyle%20choices%22&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-100&type=newtab
  2. http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/exposed-mordaunts-false-promises-on-wrag-cut-mitigation/ 
  3. ibid.
  4. http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/mordaunt-working-on-urgent-plans-to-reduce-living-costs-ahead-of-wrag-cuts/ 
  5. http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/disability-employment-gap/oral/44058.html 
  6. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/london-green-parties-understanding-the-benefits-jungle-tickets-33261650492



Thursday, 13 April 2017

Unite Community General Secretary Elections 2017

By Alan Wheatley as Kwug Blog Editor expressing personal preference that does not necessarily represent the views of KUWG members as a whole


At least a few Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group members are also members of Unite the Union's Community section, and Unite the Union currently has a General Secretary election for which the postal polls end on 19 April at 5pm.

The Islington branch at least has supported retention of Len McCluskey as General Secretary, and I seem to get official e-mail from Unite the Union backing Len McCluskey for my vote, and that does not really give much encouragement to find out about the other candidates.

So I post below a youtube video of candidate Ian Allinson from Manchester speaking about his candidacy, that is in favour of strengthening Unite Community and opposing reliance of jobs on wasteful nuclear industries and weapons production.

Moreover, he regards such 'welfare reforms' as benefit sanctions and repeated summonses of disability benefit claimants to reassessment interviews as part of a broader attack on the working class. Such attacks aim a making the workplace more oppressive, as people too ill to work are forced to apply for any kind of work.



The full list of candidates and their websites


Ian Allinson http://www.ian4unite.org
Gerard Coyne http://www.votegerardcoyne.co.uk/
Len McCluskey http://www.unite4len.co.uk/



Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq stands with Kwuggies against government-driven-suicides

Tulip Siddiq joined Kwuggies outside Kilburn Jobcentre on Monday 3 April 2017, on our demo against austerity-driven suicides.
Tulip outlined her voting record against nasty right wing 'welfare reforms' that are driving more and more people to suicide.

Discussion and explaining around the role call of austerity-related suicides



More at

Kilburn Job Centre protest 3/4/17 ' Demonstrate and Commemorate'

Sunday, 2 April 2017

DWP cast as serial litigant in 2012

This Kwug Blog editor has just come across the below New Law Journal article by way of a hyperlink in a January 2012 e-mail.(1) What the Department for Work & Pensions does nowadays is to change the law to suit its own standpoint, as in the case of people getting or not getting 'Personal Independence Payments' on mental health grounds.(2)

The article below is reprinted here by copy and paste from New Law Journal.(3)

Making the polluter pay

Date: 15 January 2012

Tom Royston makes no excuses for bad government decision-making


A serial litigant is trying the patience of judges across the nation. This litigant habitually refuses to settle cases or give serious thought to the weaknesses in his arguments. He loses a lot, of course, but it’s hard to know whether he appreciates the gravity of his situation, for he has virtually given up attending or being represented at the hearings.

Surprisingly, the judges are powerless to penalise him in costs, however unreasonable his behaviour. So there is no sign of the situation improving. His cases clog up the legal system in astonishing and increasing number, producing about 265,000 final hearings last year alone. To put that into context, all the county court non-family civil litigation in England and
Wales produces only 63,000 final hearings per year.

This litigant is the secretary of state for work and pensions (SSWP), and these cases are appeals against social security decisions, in the First-tier Tribunal’s social entitlement chamber. This article suggests that a significant number of benefit appeals could be avoided if that tribunal was given the power to award costs against public authority parties where they have behaved unreasonably.

Why are there avoidable appeals?

Bad decision-making is cheap
At my first social security tribunal, I represented an arthritic client subject to a government decision that he had no difficulty walking—so was not entitled to benefit—because he managed daily to walk his dog. The decision not only flew in the face of compelling evidence from the client’s doctors, it also ignored the fact that the client did not possess a dog.

That was no isolated case. One judge writes extra-curially of “decisions which are an affront to any sense of fairness or reasonableness” (Nick Warren, “The adjudication gap” [2006] 13 JSSL 110, 114).

Once a bad decision has been made, the SSWP frequently refuses to change it without the intervention of a tribunal. The proportion of decisions revised pre-hearing is not published, but a freedom of information request for sickness benefit reconsideration statistics in one area showed pre-hearing revisions in fewer than 4% of appeals. Yet half of all oral tribunal hearings eventually result in defeat for the government.

In any commercial setting, a litigator who only managed to settle one in 25 of their cases would not likely be long in their job. However, in the social security system, this tendency is not really the fault of the overworked decision-makers. Rather, it is a perversely economically rational outcome.
Losing tribunal hearings is cheap
The First-tier Tribunal is not a cheap system to run. Its judges are paid more than £100,000 a year; its medical members not much less. The average cost to HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) of a social security appeal is £293. There is a further cost to the state in legal aid cases of at least £167, the social security fixed fee.

The amount spent by the SSWP defending an appeal, in contrast, is about £55 (HC Deb, 2 November 2010, vol 517, c794W). Therefore, where an unreasonable decision is made, his department may bear only around one tenth of the cost to the state of its consequences. The SSWP’s budget does make a contribution to HMCTS towards the cost of tribunals, but it bears no direct relation to the quality of his decision-making.
Losing cases no longer embarrasses the secretary of state
There has, in recent years, been a substantial decline in the proportion of First-tier Tribunal hearings where the SSWP is represented. The president of the social entitlement chamber has deprecated this: “There is a crucial gulf because the department [for work and pensions] does not know what goes on in the hearing and so is at a complete loss to understand where it may have gone wrong…It also has a bearing on the volume of appeals because the department loses the ‘embarrassment’ factor. [The SSWP] is absolved from someone going back to the office and [saying], ‘We made a mistake here. I felt very embarrassed trying to defend a hopeless decision’.” (Work and Pensions Committee, Decision-making and Appeals in the Benefits System (2009-10, HC 313)).

Budgetary pressures probably preclude any return to routine respondent appearances. Some alternative means must be found of restoring the “embarrassment factor”.

Can costs orders reduce appeals?

Costs rules have a normative effect on litigation behaviour
In the mainstream English legal system, the principle that costs follow the event is regarded as of “fundamental importance in deterring plaintiffs from bringing and defendants from defending actions they are likely to lose” (Roache v News Group [1998] EMLR 161).

In tribunal litigation, permitting a hopeless decision to proceed to tribunal costs the SSWP little or nothing. In contrast, scrutinising it pre-hearing costs money. It is rarely economically rational for the SSWP to expend resources making the right decision in the first place, or to investigate later settlement.

If losing carried costs risks, the balance would shift. It would become economically rational to investigate settling. The “embarrassment factor” of facing a costs award might also be influential. Fewer cases would proceed to hearing. So costs powers would tend to reduce the volume of appeals.
The rationale for costs orders applies to public bodies, not natural persons
If costs orders encourage rational litigation, why not make unreasonable individual appellants liable too? This would be neither effective nor just—for three reasons:
  • First, lay appellants are in an inferior position to government decision-makers when attempting rational litigation decisions in the “enormously complex” field of social security law (Kerr v DSD [2004] UKHL 23, [2004] 4 All ER 385). The threat of costs, potentially ruinous to a low-income individual’s finances, could cause nervous appellants with good cases to withdraw. Yet it might well be inadequate to modify the behaviour of unreasonable appellants.
  • Second, costs risks work best against serial litigants (insurers, government, large companies), because they can learn from repeated experience. Most social security appellants are one-time litigants.
  • Third, many social security appeals concern means tested benefits. Appellants are generally extremely poor. Costs awards would often be unrecoverable, or expensively slow to recover.

How tribunals costs powers could work

The kinds of costs which would be covered by orders

While most of the expense of mainstream civil litigation is lawyers’ fees, it is rare for appellants to pay for legal representation in social security cases.

The major cost of unnecessary tribunal litigation is the cost of holding the hearings. In civil proceedings, losing defendants pay this indirectly, by compensating the claimant for having paid court fees, but social security tribunals do not charge fees.

The potency of reform would be considerably weakened if there were no way of making unreasonable public authority parties pay such costs, for in the many cases where an appellant does not seek advice, the hearing cost is the only financial cost to anyone.

One solution might be to introduce fees for public authority respondents’ submissions to a tribunal, reimbursing them where the respondent is found to have acted reasonably. This model is increasingly popular in modern dispute resolution schemes. A similar arrangement is employed by the legal services ombudsman.
Tribunal costs orders consistent with speed and informality

The advantages of the tribunals system have long been said to include “cheapness, accessibility, freedom from technicality, [and] expedition” (Gillies v SSWP [2006] UKHL 2, [2006] 1 All ER 731). None of these are words one might associate with the worst excesses of civil costs litigation, which “[fill] one with despair”, as lamented in Carver v BAA [2008] EWCA Civ 412, [2008] 3 All ER 911. Is there a risk of importing that plague? No.

The social security costs orders could justly be “rough and ready”, since they would usually be redistributing money around different agencies of the state, or state funded bodies. The principal “cost” awarded would be the “case fee” paid to the tribunal, not the victorious party’s legal costs. So reform would not encourage “those looking for profit rather than justice”, to borrow the words of Ken Clarke.

The tribunals system already has experience in making costs orders without sacrificing its traditional strengths. Three of the six First-tier Tribunal chambers have costs powers. So does the employment tribunal. They have not experienced substantial problems with satellite costs litigation.

In addition, it is not proposed that costs orders would become the rule. Costs powers would be modelled on those of the other chambers, directed at unreasonable conduct only. Losing a case would by no means automatically produce a costs penalty.

Reform not revolution


This is reform not revolution. It will not eliminate bad government decision-making. But it could bring a degree of market discipline to an area where government decision-makers have a perverse financial incentive never to settle litigation.

There would be a saving to the public purse. Fewer appellants would have to undergo the stress and inconvenience of litigation. It would also draw social security tribunal procedure into closer alignment with that of other courts and tribunals. And the changes suggested above should not require primary legislation.

The SSWP might not be keen, for it would transfer to his department costs presently borne by others. But can it really be desirable for departmental sectionalism to prevail over the broader interests of the state and its citizens?

Tom Royston, Kirklees Law Centre


Sources

  1. https://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/content/making-polluter-pay
  2. http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/pip-cuts-will-be-debated-and-voted-on/ 
  3. https://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/content/making-polluter-pay