Category Archives: Welfare payments
A reader from Bournville draws attention to an article by Jules Birch in Inside Housing, a weekly magazine for housing professionals. He focusses on a recent TV Panorama programme about the benefit cap that now leaves thousands of people with 50p a week towards their rent.
He noticed that roughly 95% of tweets with the hashtag #benefitcap (scroll down to April 7) were hostile to the people featured in the programme rather than the policy. The majority of people commenting on Twitter were seeing the undeserving individual instead: the stroppy single mother with a mobile phone and the couple with many children. He notes that exactly the same thing happened with Benefits Street, How to Get a Council House and a Dispatches documentary on the cap last month.
Part of the problem, he believes, lay with the way Panorama framed the issue. As Joe Halewood was quick to point out, the programme and its advance publicity seemed to assume that most people capped are unemployed and on Jobseeker’s Allowance, when in fact just 13% are.
The fact that the vast majority of people capped are either unable to work or not required to work was only raised tentatively halfway through the programme. Most of those capped are lone parents with young children who are not required to look for work, or people on Employment and Support Allowance who do not qualify for an exemption but are still not fit for work.
David Pipe explained the effects in a piece following the Dispatches documentary last month. 7,500 households across 370 local authority areas have lost their housing benefit and are now receiving just 50p a week to pay their rent. The cap leaves a nominal amount for housing benefit or Universal Credit once someone’s benefits total more than £20,000 (£23,000 in London). In effect it is imposed on top of the rest of the benefits system.
The latest budget highlighted cuts for the poorest 18-21-year-olds, who will no longer be entitled to help with their rent through Universal Credit from April 1.
For many, Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are the only thing keeping them in their home and the effect over time will be rising rent arrears and evictions and allocations policies that make it less likely that people on benefits will get a tenancy in the first place. So where and how can the poorest people live? Even people in caravans are being capped, and what will the knock-on costs be in terms of homelessness and the impact on the children?
Meanwhile in Broken Britain, the May government continues the policies of its predecessors and makes decisions which seriously afflict the poorest and greatly benefit the richest: the arms traders, Big Pharma, the privatised utilities, large developers, car manufacturers, private health companies and expensive, inefficient outsourcers – Serco, G4s and Capita.
The corporate world continues its vitriolic but insubstantial attacks on the Labour Party leader whose approach threatens their unreasonably affluent lifestyles. Will increasingly media-sceptical people who seek the common good be affected by them?
In brief, the reference is to arms traders, big pharma, construction giants, energy companies owned by foreign governments, food speculators, the private ill-health industry and a range of polluting interests. Examples of the damaging political-corporate nexus are given here – a few of many recorded on our database:
Arms trade: Steve Beauchampé – “A peacenik may lay down with some unsavoury characters. Better that than selling them weapons”.
The media highlights Corbyn’s handshakes and meetings, but not recent British governments’ collusion in repressive activities, issuing permits to supply weapons to dictators. In the 80s, when lobbying Conservative MP John Taylor about such arms exports, he said to the writer, word for word: “If we don’t do it, someone else will”. Meaning if we don’t help other countries to attack their citizens, others will. How low can we sink!
Reader Theresa drew our attention to an article highlighting the fact that the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA), a lobbying company working for some of the world’s biggest drugs and medical equipment firms, had written the draft report for NHS England, a government quango. This was when the latest attempt at mass-medication – this time with statins – was in the news.
Most construction entries related to the PFI debacle, but in 2009 it was reported that more than 100 construction companies – including Balfour Beatty, Kier Group and Carillion – had been involved in a price-fixing conspiracy and had to compensate local authority victims who had been excluded from billions of pounds of public works contracts. The Office of Fair Trading imposed £130m of fines on 103 companies. Price-fixing that had left the public and councils to “pick up the tab”.
In Utility Week News, barrister Roger Barnard, former head of regulatory law at EDF Energy, wondered whether any government is able to safeguard the nation’s energy security interests against the potential for political intervention under a commercial guise, whether by Gazprom, OPEC, or a sovereign wealth fund. He added: “Despite what the regulators say, ownership matters”. The Office of Fair Trading was closed before it could update its little publicised 2010 report which recorded that 40% of infrastructure assets in the energy, water, transport, and communication sectors were already owned by foreign investors.
A Lancashire farmer believes that supermarkets – powerful lobbyists and valued party funders – are driving out production of staple British food supplies and compromising our food security. She sees big business seeking to make a fortune from feeding the wealthy in distant foreign countries where the poor and the environment are both exploited. These ‘greedy giants’ are exploiting the poor across the world and putting at risk the livelihoods of hard working British farmers, their families and their communities. She adds that large businesses are gradually asset-stripping everything of value from our communities to make profits which are then invested abroad in places like China and Thailand.
Government resistance to funding long-term out of work illness/disability benefits followed the publication of a monograph by the authors funded by America’s ‘corporate giant’ Unum Provident Insurance which influenced the policy of successive governments. After various freedom of information requests, the DWP published the mortality figures of the claimants who had died in 11 months in 2011 whilst claiming Employment and Support Allowance, with 10,600 people dying in total and 1300 people dying after being removed from the guaranteed monthly benefit, placed into the work related activity group regardless of diagnosis, forced to prepare for work and then died trying. Following the public outrage once the figures were published, the DWP have consistently refused to publish updated death totals. Information touched on in this 2015 article has been incorporated into a ResearchGate report identifying the influence of Unum Provident over successive UK governments since 1992, the influence of a former government Chief Medical Officer and the use of the Work Capability Assessments conducted by the private sector – described as state crime by proxy, justified as welfare reform.
The powerful transport lobby prevents or delays action to address air pollutants such as ground-level ozone and particulates emitted by cars, lorries and rail engines which contribute directly to global warming, linked to climate change. They emit some common air pollutants that have serious effects on human health and the environment. Children in areas exposed to air pollutants commonly suffer from pneumonia and asthma.
Victimised whistleblowers, media collusion, rewards for failure and the revolving door
- A recent whistleblower report records that Dr Raj Mattu is one of very few to be vindicated and compensated after years of suffering. The government does not implement its own allegedly strengthened whistleblower legislation to protect those who make ‘disclosures in the public interest’.
- This media article relates to the mis-reporting of the Obama-Corbyn meeting: there are 57 others on this site.
- Rewards for failure cover individual cases, most recently Lin Homer, and corporate instances: Serco and G4S were bidding for a MoD £400m 10-year deal, though they had been referred to the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government on electronic monitoring contracts. Another contender, Capita, according to a leaked report by research company Gartner was two years behind schedule with its MoD online recruitment computer system – yet the government had contracted to pay the company £1bn over 10 years to hire 9,000 soldiers a year for the army.
- The 74th instance of the revolving door related to Andrew Lansley’s move from his position as government health minister to the private health sector. An investigation by the Mail found that one in three civil servants who took up lucrative private sector jobs was working in the Ministry of Defence: Last year 394 civil servants applied to sell their skills to the highest bidder – and 130 were MoD personnel. Paul Gosling describes how the Big Four accountancy firms have PFI ‘under their thumbs’ and gives a detailed list of those passing from government to the accountancy industry and vice versa.
Steve Beauchampé asks if the barrage of criticism apparently aimed at Jeremy Corbyn is more about undermining the politics he stands for which are probably less far to the left than those of many in the current government are to the right. Most political commentators and opponents aren’t worried that Labour will win a General Election under him, but they are alarmed that the movement his leadership has created might one day lead to an electable left winger.
The recent by-elections gave cover for the latest government announcement of emergency legislation inflicting further cuts on disabled people – ‘a good day to bury bad news’.
Two tribunals had ruled that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – which helps disabled people fund their living costs.
- One ruling found that someone who needed support at home to take medication or monitor a health condition like diabetes would score the same on the benefits criteria as people who needed help with a demanding procedure such as kidney dialysis.
- A second ruling said people who struggled to travel independently because of conditions such as anxiety scored the same as someone who was, for example, blind.
Ministers then swiftly revised the law to deny the increased benefit payments to more than 150,000 people.
A Lib Dem work and pensions spokeswoman said it was outrageous that the government was using the ruling to make matters worse for disabled people: “What makes things even worse is that they have sneaked this announcement out under the cover of [Thursday’s] by-elections.”
From April, it is reported that new claimants will see a reduction of £29.05 in their entitlement, which will fall to £73.10 a week. This follows on from the cuts that the DWP tried to implement last year, which resulted in Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation.
Liz Sayce from Disability Rights UK said: “We’re not aware of one single disability employment or benefits expert who thinks this particular cut will be an incentive for disabled people to get a job.”
Unfortunately this logic, and a host of scathing comments seen in the Metro won’t pierce the thick skins of affluent legislators and further deprivation will hit the least fortunate in many sectors.
Wolf: Theresa May’s policies ’make a mockery of her rhetoric’. Are they also provoking ‘generational jihad’?
Martin Wolf (FT) reminds readers of the words of Theresa May, the prime minister, in her speech to the Conservative party conference last year: “Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.” She earnestly promised that this would change.
He continues: “Was Mrs May’s speech hypocritical? Yes”.
The work of the increasingly high-profile Resolution Foundation, a charity funded by Resolution, a successful insurance investment firm founded by Clive Cowdery, focusses on low earners and the policy responses required to lift their living standards. Cowdery was knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to children and social mobility
However, Resolution’s new ‘Executive Chair’ is David Willetts, a former Tory minister, described as a pioneer of generational jihad – revealing “a country that is choosing to give priority to the well-off over the poor, and the old over the young” (see https://twitter.com/resfoundation)
Wolf comments that whatever such a country might be, it is not one that, in the prime minister’s own words, acts “to correct unfairness and injustice and put government at the service of ordinary working people”.
Willetts should heed Richard Smerdon (Letters, FT):
As I and many others can testify, millions of ageing men and women in this country are supporting their struggling children (themselves in their 30s and 40s but struggling nevertheless) in a huge variety of ways: childcare, money (in lump sums, guarantees and regular payments) and accommodation. This at a time (since the banking collapse) when returns on one’s savings have been negligible. We’ve been clobbered as well! The mess the government has got itself into over the crass handling of the tax credit issue (reform, yes, but wholesale impoverishment, no) is entirely its own fault, but many pensioners will be bracing themselves to help out yet again — which we do out of love for our children of course — but it seems an unfair additional penalty to pay for government incompetence.
Using the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility to project household incomes up to 2020, the picture is one of rising inequality. Wolf asks, “Why is this happening?” He gives several reasons, including the impact of Brexit and the tax and benefit plans inherited and maintained by Mrs May.
Theresa May, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”. To those who have, the government has decided to give
The significant cuts in benefits for those of working age, notably the freeze on most benefits in cash terms are being exacerbated by the rising post-referendum prices. Also important are substantial tax cuts for the relatively well-off. FT View (editorial) adds: “By pressing ahead with these inherited policies Theresa May, prime minister, as the Resolution Foundation puts it, is “actively choosing to increase inequality”.
Wolf states: “This outcome makes a mockery of the government’s inclusive rhetoric”.
Mary Dejevsky refutes the Resolution assertions (echoed by MSM) that government is prioritising the old over the young
Wolf writes: “The government is giving priority to the well-off and the old over the poor and young”, but Mary points out that the average pensioner still has an income 25% below the average worker, adding: “You wouldn’t guess that from the media”. She points out:
“The state pension is one of the last truly contributory payments. To present it as just another handout and part of a ballooning benefits bill is an invitation to the young to resent the amount spent even more — and to the recipients to feel that they are being patronised. The state pension should be separated from the overall benefits bill forthwith”.
A graph compiled by Aegon Insurance shows that though the income gap has narrowed substantially, working households still have a higher disposable weekly income than pensioner households.
The Foundation’s latest report includes housing costs to back up its announcement that pensioner incomes (most mortgages paid) have overtaken working-age households (paying rent or mortgage charges).
A year after Mary wrote this article, the Western Daily Press reported on a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
“The elderly are dying from heart attacks and strokes because of the stress of cuts in their pensions, according to new research. Rising mortality rates among over 85s has been linked to reductions in spending on income support for the worst off. The study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggests some vulnerable older people have paid the ultimate price for austerity measures in England. Almost nine in ten of the 4.6 per cent increase in deaths in 2012 can be explained by the decline in pension credit beneficiaries, say scientists. In England, total spending on Pension Credits, income support payments for low-income pensioners, reduced by 6.5 per cent in 2012”.
Wolf concludes that the UK confronts huge challenges. Not only is productivity stagnant, it must also navigate Brexit: “It is hard to believe wise choices are being made for a country that wishes to secure a better future for its people. It is still harder to believe these are moral choices for a country forced to share out losses imposed by a massive financial crisis and weak subsequent growth” ending:
“The government may be brazenly hypocritical. But it also seems likely to get away with it”.
But the FT editorial adds a stark warning:” There is little chance of Philip Hammond, chancellor, reversing his predecessor’s regressive policies in next month’s Budget. Yet he should keep them under review. If the outlook darkens, a combination of falling living standards and rising inequality would be an extremely dangerous one in today’s febrile (Collins: intense, nervously active) politics”.
In other words: a roused public might rock
the corporate/political boat.
As directors and other officers of the Department of Work and Pensions receive new year’s honours for services to ‘welfare reform’, a reader draws attention to an article in the Dorset Eye, by Douglas James, listing 82 people who have died or committed suicide soon after dealings with agencies such as ATOS and the government’s Department of Work and Pensions.
A search was made for news of the first five on the Dorset Eye list and the links to fuller accounts added. Most of the people were aged 30-40.
Terry McGarvey, 48. Dangerously ill from Polycythemia, Terry asked for an ambulance to be called during his ATOS Work Capability Assessment (WCA). He knew that he wasn’t well enough to attend but feared that his benefits would be stopped if he did not. He died the following day. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/terry-mcgarvey-man-ill-attend-3178486
Elaine Lowe, 53. Suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and fearful of losing her benefits. In desperation, Elaine chose to commit suicide. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/suicide-bid-of-woman-who-feared-losing-her-incapacity-benefit-8761182.html
Mark Wood, 44. Found fit for work by Atos, against his doctor’s advice and assertions that he had complex mental health problems. Starved to death after benefits stopped, weighing only 5st 8lb when he died. http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/11043378.Man_starved_after_benefits_were_cut/
Paul Reekie, 48, the Leith based poet and author. Paul suffered from severe depression and committed suicide after the DWP stopped his benefits due to an Atos ‘fit for work’ decision. http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/claim-welfare-reforms-drove-writer-paul-reekie-to-suicide-1-2269052
Leanne Chambers, 30 from County Durham. Leanne suffered depression for many years which took a turn for the worse when she was called in for a WCA. Leanne committed suicide soon after. http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/boyfriend-missing-leanne-chambers-speaks-4465236
Karen Sherlock, 44, from Portsmouth. Karen suffered from multiple health issues but was found fit for work by Atos and denied her lifeline benefits. She fought a long battle to get placed into the Employment and Support Group (ESA) and died the following month of a heart attack. http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/327050/My-ill-wife-had-to-fight-for-benefits-up-until-she-died
A year ago the BBC said that over 2000 people died after being found fit for work and losing benefits, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures. Between December 2011 and February 2014 the equivalent of about 90 people a month died after their Employment and Support Allowance claim was ended. The DWP said no link could be assumed between the deaths and claimants being deemed fit for work.
After a Freedom of Information request suggested the information about deaths linked to Work Capability Assessment is being ‘covered up’, three political parties have called for an independent enquiry into deaths linked to government reforms.
How can MPs earning more than double the national average – plus allowances, directorships and expenses – find it in their heart to vote to sentence the poor and disabled (without influence) to increased hardship?
The relatively prosperous look on aghast as support for those who have least is cut but the prosperous are voted tax breaks and other concessions. How far will this government be allowed to go?
It is no coincidence that around the country groups are gathering to promote showings of the latest Ken Loach film and citing his Question Time video clip:
A Bournville reader points out that “the tragedy is that (the long-term homeless) are going to be joined by many more who have had a home. See what is going to come into play with effect from Monday 7th November” and sends a link to an article about a cut in housing benefit from Nov 7th.
He asks: “Where are all these extra homeless people and families to go? And at what cost?”
Tomorrow more than 100,000 households will be materially worse off. Some households will lose as much as £115 a week.
The idea of tightening their belt and reducing household spending assumes that energy and food are expendable luxuries.
In the Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty stresses the costs of the lost income, the long-term psychological harm to tenants, the deteriorating health of households in temporary accommodation and the exorbitant cost of temporary accommodation for those evicted.
Every day in England and Wales, 170 tenants are evicted.
Evictions have increased by 53% in the past five years. Around 80% of these are carried out by social landlords, and a further 20% by private landlords.
Those who are being swayed by the PM’s rhetoric should look at her previous actions in office as Minister for Women and Equality, when her edicts downgraded the provision for carers, children in need and vulnerable people. She:
- suspended the registration scheme for carers of children and vulnerable people.
- scrapped the former Labour Government’s proposed “go orders” scheme to protect women from domestic violence by banning abusers from the victim’s home.
- closed the previous Government’s “ContactPoint” database of 11 million under-18-year olds designed to protect children in the wake of the Victoria Climbié child abuse scandal and
- removed a clause from the Equality Act which would have required public bodies to consider how they can reduce socio-economic inequalities when making decisions about spending and services.
Welfare payments are designed to act as a safety net to stop people in the fifth-richest economy in the world being hungry or homeless.
Where will the cuts inflicted on the poorest end, and wherever is Ms May’s compassionate conservatism in action?
Media 60: the BBC, aka the ministry for disinformation, attacks an ‘alliance of leftists and libertarians’
Analysis’ latest programme indicates that the political establishment is seriously worried about the pro-poor, anti austerity economic programme of the new Labour administration with its talented line-up of advisers which includes David Blanchflower, Thomas Piketty, Richard Murphy, Joseph Stiglitz, Ann Pettifor and Simon Wren-Lewis.
Universal Basic Income was a vehicle selected to downgrade ‘the left’ – or the Corbyn threat to vested interests.
Briefly it asserts that UBI:
- gives the right to be idle/lazy.
- is a bizarre idea, a Utopian daydream,
- is gaining serious traction on the left and
- is just the ‘flavour month for policy wonks’.
On the programme she called UBI “an idea winning support from an unlikely alliance of leftists and libertarians” and on Twitter: “Universal basic income: salvation for the left or the seeds of its destruction?” Search engines find Is the left’s big new idea a ‘right to be lazy’? – BBC News.
Sonia made serious omissions – due to ignorance or strategy? Though carefully lacing the programme with references to robots, she interviewed no acknowledged experts on the subject of UBI and never referred to the widespread interest and pilot projects by governments and universities in other countries.
So who is Sonia? The invaluable Public Affairs News enlightens us
Sonia Sodha, appeared on the programme merely as the chief leader writer for the Observer. She did not tell listeners that she is employed by the establishment’s PR supremo.
As several times stated on the programme she was a policy adviser to Ed Miliband but an online search reveals that she has now joined the Westminster Policy Institute, headed by Sean Worth, a special adviser to David Cameron in Downing Street. WPI describes itself as an experienced and highly-networked team of consultants drawn from backgrounds in Downing Street, the Treasury and senior policy and media roles, providing strategic advice and hands-on support.
To compensate for the programme’s deficiencies, here is a helpful thumbnail UBI sketch on Money Week, no hotbed of the ‘loony left’, but a widely read financial magazine:
(UBI) makes all work pay by abolishing the classic trap of all means-tested benefits.
Under a universal income, there are no perverse disincentives that give people an excuse to stay at home in the face of an effective marginal tax rate of 80%.
Given that one of the main challenges of the age appears to be in-work poverty, rather than mass unemployment, a basic income system could play a significant role – especially in an age of disruptive technologies that make working lives less and less secure.
Nor is there any disincentive to prudent long-term saving – no one has their benefits stopped for having too much in the bank.