Pathetic government causes laughter and pity, it’s time to go

Sitting here alongside Lisa, in our home in southern Spain, I watch the political shenanigans in the UK over Brexit with both amusement and pity.

Amusement, because of the knots into which politicians contrive to tie themselves, and pity for residents of the UK who deserve a government that is fit for purpose. Unfortunately, events show that it isn’t.

And that goes much deeper than issues surrounding Europe. Those of us who have disabilities are well aware of this government’s shortcomings.

The latest wheeze of its Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to introduce what are referred to as ‘text box tribunals’.

The idea behind it, supposedly, is to make life easier for claimants. Documents available online and use of video-conferencing for benefit appeals would, in theory at least, save claimants from the need to make long trips.

In reality, however, it is about cutting costs, and providing another obstacle for claimants to navigate before reaching an oral hearing.

Steve Donnison, director of Benefits and Work Ltd, explains: “Under the new Continuous Online Resolution (COR) system, soon to be piloted, most PIP (Personal Independence Payment) and ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claimants who appeal a decision will have their case looked at by an online tribunal panel.

How online panels will operate

“The panel will review all the documents relating to the appeal and will then ask the claimant any further questions they think may be relevant. The claimant is given a deadline to respond to these questions. They do this by typing directly into text boxes in their Tribunals Service account dashboard.

“Once the text box tribunal has all the information it thinks it needs, it gives the claimant its decision.”

Claimants who do not agree with that decision, will still have the right to have their case heard at an oral hearing.

Donnison continues: “The new system will not allow the (online) panel to ask nearly as many questions as they would at an oral hearing.

“It will also not give the panel the chance to meet the claimant and form an opinion about their reliability as a witness. In the vast majority of oral hearings, panels have a high opinion of the claimant’s credibility.

“The success rate for paper hearings is dramatically lower than for oral hearings. Text box tribunal results will almost certainly fall somewhere in the middle.”

That would mean many thousands of claimants will have to endure a claim, a mandatory reconsideration and a text box tribunal before they can get to an oral appeal.

The appeal process was long enough already – now this “easier” online tribunal is just an extra step in the disgustingly long-drawn-out ordeal process.

I fear that not many claimants will manage to cope with it. At least that will be good news for the DWP and the Tribunals Service – just not so good for the rest of us.

This government is incapable of managing anything. Whether it is Brexit, disability benefits, or Universal Credit (don’t get me started), just to name a few,. There is chaos and pandemonium. The government is unable to govern. It is time for Theresa May and her pathetic cohorts to go.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Ian is not a doctor, so cannot and does not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely his own unless otherwise stated.

Government gagging clauses attempt to silence critics

“I don’t believe it” was the catchphrase of Victor Meldrew (pictured right) in the BBCtv sit-com One foot in the grave. It signaled his frustration with elements of life today. However, although feeling equally exasperated as actor Richard Wilson’s character, I really DO believe it.

It is another example of overreach, so typical of UK Conservative governments. But believing it is a long way from accepting it.

It is clearly not acceptable that some 22 charities and companies, that are paid government cash, to have had to sign so-called “gagging clauses”. These are said to prevent them from criticizing the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), its political bosses, and the new Universal Credit (UC) benefit.

The much-criticised UC is being rolled out across the country to replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits paid to working-age claimants. These are: income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. These are typically paid to people with disabilities and others who are often seen as vulnerable.

News of the gagging clauses were revealed by investigative journalists at The Times national newspaper, in a report last week. Since then, the remainder of the Press has followed suit.

The gagging clauses amount to a disgraceful and repugnant act of censorship that has no place is a democratic society. And the Press’s calls for the clauses to be removed have now led to a similar demand from the main opposition, the Labour party.

Gagging: Call for Commons statement

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood.

Labour’s shadow works and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood has critcised the clauses – and called for them to be removed.

In a letter to the Conservative government work and pension secretary Esther McVey,Ms Greenwood has requested (really, demanded) a statement be made to the House of Commons. A statement that, she says, should explain the reasons for the gagging clauses, as well as announce their immediate removal.

She wrote: “I am asking that you come to the House of Commons to explain the original rationale behind these gagging clauses and to publicly announce that they will be removed by the Government.” The full text of Ms Greenwood’s letter can be read here.

I delayed writing about this, in the hope that the government would make a statement and remove the gagging clauses. But now, it’s halfway through the following week and there has been no response to this demand.

Earlier, the DWP had denied that the organisations were banned from criticising UC and said the clauses protected commercially sensitive information.

At that time, a spokeswoman said: “As with all arrangements like this, they include a reference which enables both parties to understand how to interact with each other and protect their best interests.”

 Yeah, right. That response to media  enquiries fails to address the facts, and ignores the issues involved. As if we accept that. Certainly, the Press and Labour’s Ms Greenwood don’t – and nor should they.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal site of Ian Franks, a digital journalist and former writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Disability benefits: Questions remain over timing and complexity

Why, oh why, oh why? This was the title of a hit song (well in the UK anyway) performed by Gilbert O’Sullivan in 1973, but now represents three questions to which we need answers. And by that, I am talking about meaningful answers from a government department responsible for benefits for the sick and disabled.

The UK government´s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has much to explain.

benefits

Photo: The Independent

In January, the DWP admitted defeat in its attempts to change the law to make it harder for claimants who experience psychological distress.

But, that was so long ago, so…

Why?

Why has the DWP taken five months to publish its updated guidance for benefits assessors in relation to PersonaI Independence Payment (PIP) and the Planning and following journeys activity.

And, what changes has this updated guidance brought forward? Well, in truth, not a lot.

Benefits and Work’s newsletter explains: “A new paragraph has been added to the guidance for descriptors c), d) and f). 

“These were the descriptors which had the words ‘For reasons other than psychological distress’ unlawfully added to them in March 2017 and which have had to be changed back to their original wording. There have been several other small changes.”

Such minimal changes should not have taken five months to produce the revised guidance. It is ridiculous.

Oh, why?

At the same time, changes have been made to the guidance given to PIP decision makers. Thes address the issue of safety and supervision when planning and carrying out a journey.

But, why have decision makers have been told that claimants who need time to recover after a seizure may not score any points for this in relation to daily living?

This time, the new guidance was prompted by the DWP losing a separate court case. The court ruled that the DWP was wrong to insist that a claimant could only score points for being unsafe if harm was likely to occur on more than 50% of the occasions on which they attempted an activity.

Benefits and Work said: “Instead, the court decided that the decision maker should look at whether there is a real possibility that harm might occur and also at how great the harm might be. The greater the potential harm, the less likely it needs to be that it would happen on any specific occasion.”

Although decision makers have been told that claimants may not score any points for the need for recovery time in relation to daily living, they may score points because they may not be safe outdoors whilst recovering. 

Oh why?

Just why can a claimant, who now qualifies for PIP, not have the original decision to decline the benefit reversed?

This is an example of just such a case, that was given in a lengthy DWP memo for decision makers. This covers changes to guidance on the mobility component, and gives some details of the exercise which has begun looking again at over 1.6 million PIP claims.

The memo explains that, depending on when they were made, some claims will need three different decisions making on them:

  • The first decision will be for the period before the DWP lost a case known as MH, which dealt with the mobility component and psychological distress.
  • The second decision will be from the date when MH applied, 28.11.16.
  • The third decision will be from the date when a decision known as RJ, which deals with safety and supervision, also applied, 09.03.17

Confused? It is complex and may result in more mistakes.

But, what of the example I mentioned? It reads:

“A claim to PIP was made on 4.1.17 (January 4). The DM decided on 1.3.17 (March 1) that the claimant is not entitled to PIP. The claimant applies for MR (mandatory reconsideration) in the light of RJ. The DM looks at the case again and decides that RJ applies. However, the original decision to disallow the claim cannot be superseded on the grounds of error of law because it predates the decision in RJ. Therefore, the DM should give a decision refusing to revise for official error and the claimant should be advised to make a new claim.”

The DWP message is that some claimants who did not get an award but are now eligible will have to make a fresh claim.

Of course, we know that not everyone affected will bother to make a new claim – and others may not realise that they have to claim again to get the PIP to which they are entitled.

When the DWP said it would review 1.6m PIP applications, it didn’t say that it would make life even more difficult for claimants.

Why, oh why, oh why cannot life be made easier?

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Government minister’s welfare benefits statements prove economical with the truth

Sarah Newton, one of two ministers of state at the department for work and pensions (DWP), was in the centre of a heated debate in the House of Commons, this week.

The Canary, a website dedicated to independent campaigning journalism, reported that she made some staggering claims. It went on to question how many of them were true. Those of us with disabilities, resulting from MS and other causes, know that the answer will be ‘very few´.

The debate was about a report by the UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The report said successive UK governments had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. The chair of the committee said the government had created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.

newton

Sarah Newton MP.

In the debate, Labour accused Newton and the government of making disabled people a “forgotten class”; of allowing the DWP to ‘endlessly mistreat’ them, and of creating a “national scandal”.

Newton dismissed Labour’s assertions. She said: “Let’s actually deal with the facts of the situation, and stop this really quite irresponsible talk that we hear in the chamber today…”

But, it seems that Newton and “the facts” don’t go hand in hand. No surprise that DWP politicians are always ready to brush unpleasant, but genuine, facts under the carpet. They are past masters of spouting their own version of the “truth”.

The Canary went through her comments and fact-checked them. Of course, it found that Newton statements were, to put it politely, economical with the truth.

Time to check the genuine facts

So, let’s look at the real truth!

CLAIM: Newton: “I utterly refute the allegations that have been made today: that we are discriminating against disabled people; that we are systematically undermining and violating their human rights, or worst of all that we are targeting their… welfare support…”

FACT: The High Court ruled in December 2017 that aspects of the Personal Independence Payment rules were “blatantly discriminatory”. It then ruled again on June 14 that aspects of Universal Credit’s implementation had been ‘discriminatory’.

Additionally, a tribunal found the DWP had discriminated against one of its own workers, who was disabled, awarding him £26,000 in damages.

The Canary also pointed out that besides the UNCRPD, the UK government has been accused of breaking international treaties and violating disabled people’s rights by the UN Human Rigth Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Affairs and the European Committee of Social Rights (part of the Council of Europe).

Meanwhile, the UNCRPD report said government policies had become “life-threatening to many disabled people”.

CLAIM: Newton said that the government was “very disappointed” that the UNCRPD did not take on board… the evidence that the government gave them. They did not acknowledge the full range of support.

FACT: The UNCRPD report was overarching in the evidence it took on board. However, it condemned the UK government’s attempts to misrepresent the impact of policies through “unanswered questions”, “misused statistics”, and a “smoke screen of statements”.

Equality Act fails disabled people

CLAIM: Newton said:I want to reassure everyone that we have very strong legislation… on our statute book to protect disabled people – that’s through the public sector equality duty in the Equality Act 2010…”

FACT: Just one example of the implementation of the Equality Act 2010 failing disabled people is the UK rail network. Disabled people’s organisations, trade unions, and commuter groups have argued that the train operator’s policies breach the act. Their claims have been largely ignored.

Newton then had to answer a question from Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions, Debbie Abrahams. Abrahams asked why the government had not done a cumulative impact assessment of all welfare reforms.

CLAIM: Newton said: “We do undertake a cumulative assessment of reforms, each fiscal event. This is because we want to be as transparent as possible regarding the cumulative distributional impacts of government policies, including welfare reforms, tax changes – direct and indirect – and public spending changes.”

FACT: This is not the same as doing an impact assessment of the combined effect of every cut, reform, and change on disabled people. The government is merely giving itself individual snapshots.

Poverty level  figures not all they seem

CLAIM: Newton said that the proportion of people in a family where someone is disabled… in relative poverty has not risen since 2010.

And that the proportion of people in a family where someone is disabled, who are in absolute poverty, is at a record low…

FACT: The government admits that changes it made around 2011, to how disabled people are identified, could affect poverty measures. Also, the government does not include in its poverty figures the average additional £570 a month costs disabled people face because of their impairments. Moreover, the government’s measure for absolute poverty is different to that of the UN, and different again to a measure the House of Commons Library used in a briefing paper.

Newton’s claim of no rise in poverty is even different to the DWP’s own figures, which show the number of disabled people in relative poverty has risen since 2010 [source: the Joseph Rowntree Foundation].

CLAIM: Newton said: “These allegations, that we are driving people to the food banks and forcing people into destitution, is simply an irresponsible statement.

FACT: The government’s National Audit Office says Universal Credit is driving people to food banks and throwing them into rent arrears.

CLAIM: Newton said: “We’re spending over £50bn a year on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions.”

FACT: The amount the government spends on disability benefits is actually £39bn. Full Fact says the £50bn figure is from 2012, and includes adult social care, free travel, and home adaptations

UK actually fifth in G7, not second

CLAIM: Newton said that the £50bn was: “up by £7bn since 2010, and it’s around 2.5% of GDP – over 6% of the government’s spending. Now as a share of our GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is the second highest in the G7…”

FACT: This is a selective use of statistics, as it also includes some NHS spending. The Office for National Statistics reported on EU “social protection” figures. The UK actually spends less than Norway, Germany, Spain and France on disability benefits.

CLAIM: Newton said: “There is no freeze on the benefits that people with disabilities have received…”

FACT: Tax-free disability benefits like the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) have been rising. But the “work-related activity” part of Employment and Support Allowance has been frozen since 2015. 391,000 people, many of them sick and disabled, are in this group.

CLAIM: In closing Newton summed up by accusing Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) of fearmongering and not dealing in facts.

She said: Who’s going to suffer? Who’s going to suffer from what… we’ve been hearing from the opposition today?

FACT: It is going to be disabled people and their families, who are going to be frightened – frightened to come forward and get the benefits that are there for them; frightened to come forward and get the support that’s available to them.

The Canary said: “Newton either displayed staggering delusional behaviour or wilful ignorance.” I agree but would describe both as shameful. Worse, the same descriptions can be applied equally to the government as a whole.

Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, The Canary says it contacted the DWP for comment but received no response by the time of publication.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Government withdraws disability benefit legal appeals, at last

A government disability benefits boss has withdrawn another two legal appeals which now opens the door for more claimants to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

withdrawn

Esther McVey, work and pensions secretary.

The appeals, by the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), were withdrawn by the department’s secretary of state Esther McVey MP. Previously, she cancelled plans to challenge a legal judgment, prompting a major review of thousands of decisions about disability benefits cases.

Now, the DWP is once again on the back foot – and claimants are set to reap the benefit.

The department had appealed to the Upper Tribunal and the Court of Appeal after the First-Tier Tribunal ruled that two claimants with chronic conditions were entitled to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Ms McVey has now withdrawn both appeals.

Barrister Tom Royston, of Garden Chambers North, represented both the claimants. Since Ms McVey withdrew the appeals, Mr Royston has issued a damning analysis of the cases.

He criticises successive Work and Pensions secretaries for trying to enact and enforce a major change in the law without parliamentary approval.

Appeals cause unacceptable wait for justice

Further, from the dates the now-withdrawn appeals were lodged, the DWP has forced disabled people to wait for a final decision. That’s a wait of two years in one case, and three years in the other.

I can understand that nothing could be done while legal action, the appeals, were pending. But why has it taken so long to withdraw them? One was due to be heard this month. It’s crazy. It’s an unacceptable wait for justice.

Online campaigning journalist Mike Sivier, writing on Vox Political website, said: “Ms McVey, and successive Work and Pensions secretaries before her, has been gambling that her victims – yes, victims; and I think even that is too mild a word – would run out of stamina and let her have her way. It is a classic bullying tactic.”

I agree. The DWP should be ashamed of its actions. Esther McVey should be ashamed she took so long to withdraw the appeals. Prime minister Theresa May and her government should be ashamed of presiding over such a farce.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Government department’s “no information” claim is just a feeble cover-up

A government department responsible for disability benefits has effectively admitted that vital documents were not shown to an expert hired to conduct a review. The papers link its controversial ‘fitness to work’ test with deaths of benefit claimants.

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims it has no information about whether the reviewer was shown copies of peer reviews and two prevention of death reports. Of course, if they had been given to the reviewer, the action would have been noted.

no informationIts “The information is not held” response to a Freedom of Information request, I contend, is an admission of guilt. Those of us who have personal experience of the DWP simply won’t be convinced that it is telling the truth. We see it for what it is, a feeble attempt at a cover-up.

Actions are always recorded but any lack of action isn’t – as there is nothing to note. Therefore, ‘no information’ means the documents were NOT shown to the reviewer. And that is unforgiveable.

The FOI request was submitted by the Disability News Service. Its full story can be read here.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * *

50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Benefit sanctions ineffective, independent study

A new study confirms what we already knew – sanctions against benefit claimants just don’t work. It says they trigger negative outcomes.

Sanctions are already discredited. They are imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with the somewhat dubious aim of getting jobless and people with disabilities into work.

However, a long-term study by university researchers, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality, says the sanctions are ineffective. In fact, it says that sanctions are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime.

British national daily newspaper The Guardian reported that the five-year exercise, that tracked hundreds of claimants, concludes that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous.

sanctions

Patrick Butler (Pic: The Guardian).

The paper’s social policy editor Patrick Butler wrote:

“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.

Despite claims by ministers in recent years that rigorously enforced conditionality – including mandatory 35-hour job searches –  incentivised claimants to move off benefits into work, the study found the positive impact was negligible.

It calls for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work.

In the “rare” cases where claimants did move off benefits into sustained work, researchers found that personalised job support, not sanctions, was the key factor. With few exceptions, however, jobcentres were more focused on enforcing benefit rules rather than helping people get jobs, the study found.

Poor quality and ineffective

“Although some examples of good practice are evident, much of the mandatory job search, training and employment support offered by Jobcentre Plus and external providers is too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work,” it says.

For those people interviewed for the study who did obtain work, the most common outcome was a series of short-term, insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment, rather than a shift into sustained, well-paid work

Sanctions generally delivered poor outcomes, including debt, poverty and reliance on charities such as food banks, the study found. Often imposed for trivial and seemingly cruel reasons, they frequently triggered high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

sanctions

Prof Peter Dwyer (Pic: University of York).

“The outcomes from sanctions are almost universally negative,” said the director of the study, Prof Peter Dwyer of the University of York.

The study found that, in many cases, the threat of sanctions had the unintended effect of encouraging a “culture of counterproductive compliance and futile behavior” among some claimants, who learned “the rules of the game” rather than becoming genuinely engaged with work.

Claimants with chaotic lives – who were homeless or had addictions, for example – reacted to the “inherent hassle” of the conditionality system by dropping out of the social security system altogether. In some cases, they moved into survival crime, such as drug dealing.

Low-paid workers on universal credit who were subject to so-called “in-work conditionality” – a requirement for them to work more hours or face sanctions – in some cases elected to sign off, foregoing rent support and tax credits, to avoid what they saw as constant, petty harassment from jobcentre staff.

Sanctions are effectively fines

Welfare conditionality – the notion that eligibility for benefits and services should be linked to claimants’ compliance with certain rules and behaviours – has been progressively embedded into the UK social security system since the 1990s, although the scope and severity intensified dramatically after 2012.

Sanctions are imposed when claimants supposedly breach jobcentre rules, typically by failing to turn up for appointments or applying for enough jobs. They are effectively fined by having their benefit payments stopped for a minimum of four weeks (about £300) and a maximum of three years.

At its peak in 2013, under the then secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, there were more than a million sanctions. Between 2010 and 2015, a quarter of all people on jobseeker’s allowance were sanctioned, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) issuing £132m in sanctions penalties in 2015.

Sanctions fell to 350,000 in 2016 as a series of critical reports emerged questioning their effectiveness and calling for changes, including from the all-party work and pensions select committee, the DWP’s social security advisory committee and the National Audit Office. A fresh inquiry by MPs into sanctions is under way.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded welfare conditionality study was carried out between 2013 and 2018 by researchers at six universities. It included repeat qualitative interviews over two years with 481 welfare service users in England and Scotland as well as interviews with 57 policy experts and 27 focus groups.

Need support instead of sanctions

sanctions

Dalia Ben-Galim (Pic: Gingerbread).

Dalia Ben-Galim, the policy director at the single parents’ charity Gingerbread, said: “Rather than threatening single parents with sanctions and widening the ‘conditionality’ agenda, it would be much more valuable to enable the conditions to support employment such as affordable childcare, access to flexible work and personalised support through job centres.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our research shows that over 70% of JSA claimants say sanctions make it more likely they will comply with reasonable and agreed requirements, and it is understandable that people meet certain expectations in return for benefits.

“We tailor requirements to individual cases and sanctions are only used in a very small percentage of cases when people fail to meet their agreed requirements set out in their claimant commitment.”

sanctions

Margaret Greenwood (Pic: Liverpool Echo).

Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions Margaret Greenwood said: “The current sanctions system is immoral and ineffective. It is not helping people into employment and at the same time is leaving vulnerable people on the brink of destitution, without any source of income for long periods.”

All in all, I believe that benefit sanctions have no place in any modern caring society. The trouble is, regrettably, the UK government and its widely-disrespected DWP cannot be described as caring.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

* * * * *

50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor, so cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.