Archive | November 2012

Fact-checking FactCheck

Fact-checking fact-check

 

Firms get up to £13 720 for getting a person into a job.  Currently there is a small attachment fee of £400, which is to be phased out over the next few years as companies build up their success and therefore can afford to take people on at their own cost.  The biggest single payment is for a job outcome, paid when a person on JSA has been in employment for 6 months or a person on ESA has been in employment for 3 months.  However the money really starts coming in when people have stayed in jobs beyond the outcome period, as the companies then get between £117 and £370 every four weeks up to one or two years.  Presumably these people are no longer getting support from the Work Provider, so the Provider can just wait for the money to come in every four weeks.

Poor performance of the Work Programme has been linked to the state of the economy, which is worse than was expected when the WP started.  However CESI said the target of 5.5% should be revised down by only 15%, to just under 5%.  The headline figure of 3.4% getting a job is still too small.

However, whilst headline figures look poor, they mask the fact that with each month more people join the programme, without an equal number leaving because their allotted time (2 years) is up.  The appropriate figure is not the percentage with a job outcome out of all who have been referred, but the percentage with an outcome within a set period – not including people who have not been on the programme for that length of time.

So to know how well the programme is doing, we first need to decide how quickly we think they should find jobs for people attached to it.  Assuming that taking up to 12 months is acceptable, then the success rate is around 8.4%.

Fact check does mention this, but not until near the end of the report.  By this time, there has been a lot of comparison of the 3.5% figure to the DWP target of 5.5% and suggestion that the WP is worse than nothing.  ESA figures were submitted to the same incorrect use of maths to get 1.5% finding work; the reality is that 4.1% of those who joined the programme in June-Aug 2011 had work a year later.

Fact check does not provide any data on whether the WP is worse than nothing.  To know this, we would need to know what percentage of jobseekers who had been out of work for 6 months prior to Jun-Jul 2011 and who were not placed on the WP got jobs within a year.

Keeping a job is not just about job outcomes, it is also about staying in work after that time.  For people from ESA, 2000 sustainment payments were paid out.  This works out as the average ESA referral not staying in work for more than six months (otherwise there would have been more sustainment payments).  I haven’t done the equivalent calculations for Jobseeker referrals, but the length of time people stay in work after reaching a job outcome is a crucial piece of information that the government has rather disappointingly not given us,

 

Cost wise, fact check has neglected sum important figures.

Until a person gets a job, Work Providers receive only £400 (attachment fee).  It is therefore not very expensive to have a lot of people on the programme, if being on the programme was all that mattered.  However the key thing is that for the Work Programme to be counted a success, people need to get into and stay in work.  This rapidly raises the costs.

At the lowest end, a Work Provider gets a £400 attachment fee, £1200 job outcome fee and 13 sets of sustainment payments at £170 each – a total of £3810.  At the highest end, the figures are £400, £3500 (all but ESA ex-IB claimants are £1200) and 26 sets of £370 – a total of £13720.

The first thing fact check has forgotten is that sustainment payments occur every four weeks for either 52, 80 or 104 weeks (1, 1 ½ and 2 years).  So most of the money that a Work Provider will get for getting a person into a job hasn’t been paid yet.

Secondly, so far only 8.4% of people got jobs within a year.  That’s approximately 9 people not getting a job to every 1 person that does.  The cost of that one person’s job includes the attachment fee for the other 9 who didn’t got jobs (although if people get jobs in their second year on the programme, the ratio of attachment fees to jobs will decrease; also this fee won’t continue to occur after the first few years of the WP).

All of this means that one job found this year costs between £7410 and £19120.

This means the WP is currently more expensive than the Flexible New Deal, Employment Zones, New Deal for Young People and New Deal for 25+.

 

So the key facts are:

WP success is 8.4%, not the 3.5% used by Fact-Check to compare to the 5.5% target

For ESA claimants, success is 4.1% not 1.2%

The WP is currently more expensive than the other programmes considered by Fact-Check

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Does the Work Programme Work?

Back on wordpress because I can’t get my website to work…

Today (27th november) the government released data on the first year of its work programme.  This programme is open to people on ESA and JSA.  People are mandated to this programme when they have been on JSA or ESA for a set number of months; the number of months depends on the category into which a person falls.  For people moved on to JSA from Incapacity Benefit, this is three months.  People placed in WRAG can be referred to the work programme at any time, in general when they are considered to be within three months of recovering enough to return to work.  Jobseeker’s are given six months before referral if they are 18-24, and 12 if they are over 25.

The Work Programme was started in June 2011.  Since then, there have been 878 000 referrals to the Programme and 837 000 attachments.  Of these, 91% were from JSA and 9%, 79 000 people, were from ESA.  Most ESA referrals are from new ESA claims who are mandated to the programme from WRAG; these form 52 100 people or 66%.  The next biggest is voluntary referrals at 22% (17k), and the smallest is ESA claimants who were previously on IB, at 12% (9.4k).

Out of all referrals, 200 000 people started jobs.  However most left within six months: only 31 000 people have been in work long enough for the Work Programme Providers (WPPs) to get job outcome payments.  Of these 31 000, only 1 000 are people from ESA.

To get an idea of how well the WPP are performing, ideally we would need to know how long it took people to find a job and have data for 2 years, the amount of time WPP are given to find people a job.  Because the WP has only been going for 14 months, the best we can do is to use the first three months to work out what percentage of people are found a job in 12 months.  We also can’t easily compare it to Jobcentre data, as Jobcentre data will include people who are able to find jobs more quickly.  There is also little data on how will the WP performs compared with previous schems, although Alex Hurn does a good comparison here. (basically, WP is not very, if at all, effective, and the Future Job Fund was effective)

For ESA groups, this gives the data in Table 1 for how many and what percentage found work within one year of referral to the WP.  Note that the September 2011 cohort is just under one year, as figures for August 2012 are not available yet.  Over all ESA groups, 475 people found jobs within one year of joining the Work Programme out of 11 488 referred from June-Aug 2011.  That’s a success rate of 4.1%.  This is much lower than the figure for all people on the WP, which has an 8.3% success rate over the first two months of the programme.

Note that there is some incorrect use of statistics.  For all WP participants, 31 000 of 878 000 referrals got jobs: this is 3.5%, the figure that is being most quoted.  However, this includes people referred who weren’t attached (don’t ask, I don’t know what that means, unless it is that people voluntarily left the benefit) and therefore understates the percentage.  It also includes people who have joined the programme very recently and therefore can’t be expected to have yet found work.

This graph shows the percentage that have a job outcome (i.e. stay in work for 6 mths) for each month after joining, up to ten months.  It is not cumulative.  The big jump between 6 and 7 months suggests that most people are likely to take at least 6 mths to be found a job.  Therefore, to include people who joined the WP in the last 6 mths (i.e. Feb to Jul 2012) will inappropriately raise the caseload relative to job outcome rate.

This is why the government uses the figure of 8.1% and 8.6%.  These are the percentages who found work within one year of joining, for June and July 2011 cohorts respectively.  These graph use 10 months, to allow more cohorts to be included.

The use of the figure 3.5% is inappropriate.  To know whether the WP is successful, we need to have an agreement on how long we think it should take a WPP to find a job for a person.   If we think it should be 6 months, then the figure is 1.2%; at 9 months it is 4.6% and at 12 (not shown on these graphs) it is 8.35%.

It is worth bearing in mind that for people mandated from JSA, another 6 months has to be added to the time out of work, and for ESA it is another three.  So if the total amount of time acceptable for a person to be out of work, including time before joining the WP, is 12 months, only 1.2% get a job in this time.

ESA ex-IB ESA New IB/IS voluntary ESA voluntary JSA ex-IB
% referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs
Jun-11 0 90 0 3.9 1800 70 6 170 10 7 300 21 5.6 150 8
Jul-11 8.3 120 10 3.2 3400 109 7 290 20 6 500 30 8.1 370 30
Aug-11 0 130 0 3.3 3290 109 5 210 11 7 460 32 7.1 208 15
Sep-11 0 180 0 3.7 3550 131 4.3 230 10 6.3 480 30 8.3 240 20
Jun-Aug 2.9 340 10 3.4 8490 288 6.1 670 41 6.6 1260 83 7.3 728 53

Job outcome rate varies by group.  In particular, people who are on ESA and have been mandated to the Work Programme are unlikely to find work, at 3.4% across both groups.  However, people moved on to JSA from Incapacity Benefit or who volunteer for the programme from IB or ESA are twice as likely to find work, at 6.7% across all three groups.  It may be that this occurs because those who are mandated to the WP are less healthy than those found fit for work (although bear in mind these people are not necessarily either well or fit for work) or those who self-select for the WP.  People who self-select for the WP may feel that their health condition or disability need not be a barrier to work, if appropriate work and support can be found.

The key issue however is whether or not these people stay in work.  And the results say that they do not.   1000 people from ESA found work.  But only 2000 sustainment payments occurred for people on ESA.  Sustainment payments are lump sums given to WPP for every four weeks an ESA claimant spends in employment above the first three months.  Given how long the work programme has been running, and the number of people reaching a job outcome (3months in work) there was potential for 3000 payments to be made.  Such a small sum means very few people stayed in work for more than 3 months.  Because the number of job outcomes per month has been increasing, most of the potential sustainment payments occur for people who reached job outcomes in Feb-Jun 2012.  This skew also means that the average person who got a job kept it for only 6 months (3 months to job outcome, plus 3 months of sustainment payments).

The data suggest two things.

First is that small numbers of people are being helped into long-term employment.

Second is that a large percentage of people who reach 3 months employment don’t stay in that employment.  They may not leave right away, but the data suggests the average person does not get past 6 months.

The numbers can be cooked in different ways.  You can consider how many got a job out of all who have been referred to the WP, but this makes it look worse than it is – it includes people who only recently joined.  You can consider how many got a job within a year of being on the WP, but this makes it look better than it is – it forgets that people have already been unemployed for three or six months, and ignores that the majority do not stay in employment for six months.  You can also find inappropriate data to compare it with: bearing in mind that these are people who have been unemployed for six months (three for ESA), it is not correct to compare this with all jobseekers who find employment, because some will find employment within six months of signing on.

But however the numbers are cooked, one thing is clear: the Work Programme is not working well.

Key Figures:

All:

837 000 people joined the Work Programme

200 000 people started a job

8.3% of people got a job within a year of being on the WP.[1]

1.2% of people got a job within a year of being on JSA, or 9 mths of being on ESA

31 000 people kept a job for six months (three for ESA recipients)

20 000 people kept a job for more than six months (three for ESA recipients)

£58 000 was spent as sustainment payments for the 20 000 people in work for more than six months (three for ESA recipients)

ESA:

1 000 people had a job for three months

4.1% of people got a job within a year

Most of these people did not stay in employment for more than six months


[1] This data is only available for people who started the WP in June or July 2011

New Website

My blog has now moved to my website, www.aidaaleksia.com. New posts and updates on my book can be found there.

My book is now available for sale.  Why We’re Not Benefit Scroungers can be bought as a pdf for £1 from my website.  Purchasers who buy the book before 15th December, when the print version comes out, can get £1 off the price of the print version.

The People’s Review of the WCA: a summary

Yesterday a report was released about the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance.  It contains many stories of poor assessments and inappropriate decisions that a person is fit for work.  Here I have made a summary of some of the problems that the WCA faces.  The full report is well worth reading and can be found at http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-peoples-review/

 

The ESA is surrounded by secrecy:

  • Atos Health Care Professionals (HCPs) have to sign the Official Secrets Act
  • The DWP has refused to release details of the contract between the DWP and Atos
  • Details of the Independent Tier that monitors Atos have not been released
  • Data on Quality Assurance checks are not available to the public
  • The report on improved Mental Health descriptors developed by Professor Harrington with Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society has not been released to the public
  • recordings of assessments are ‘only provided for the customer’s own personal use’ and will not be routinely used in appeals or as evidence of inaccuracy in the WCA
  • Data on the use of free text boxes during the WCA are not released to the public

 

Evidence suggests the ESA is not working well:

  • 41% of people found fit for work appeal this decision
  • Of this 41%, 38% win the appeal.  This rises to 70% if the claimant has a representative; some representatives claim a 100% appeal success rate
  • 72% of claimants found fit for work are still out of work 12-18 months later[1]
  • anecdotal reports from Jobcentre staff show multiple people are sent to look for work who are demonstrably too ill to work
  • appeals cost £60 million a year; the Atos contract is worth £100 million a year[2]
  • A large backlog of appeals means that the tribunal service has had to:[3]
    • recruit more judges and medical panel members
    • increase administrative resources
    • secure additional estate
    •  increase the number of cases listed in each session
    • run double shifts in its largest processing centre
    • run Saturday sittings in some of the busiest venues
    • set up a customer contact centre to deal with telephone inquiries

 

Atos HCPs are not well trained:

  • reports on training vary, but appear to be measured in days or a small number of weeks[4]
  • HCPs are not required to have a Diploma in Disability Assessment Medicine[5]
  • any training received by Atos HCPs is not recognised by the European Qualifications Regulations 2007[6]
  • The Royal College of Nurses has refused to accredit the training of Atos Nurse assessors[7]

 

WCAs are not well checked for accuracy and quality:

  • Checks are internal and are not open to the public
  • The checks are run by a company chosen and paid for by Atos
  • Professor Harrington recommended unannounced visits to assessment centres, but this has not occurred
  • the National Audit Office said that, “The current target of no more than 5 per cent of reports being graded as ‘unsatisfactory’ is not sufficiently challenging and allows the contractor to deliver a significant number of assessments before financial penalties become due.”[8]

 

WCAs have been criticised by multiple bodies and experts:

  • GPs called for an end to the WCA with immediate effect
  • The British Medical Association called for an end to the WCA with immediate effect[9]
  • The RCN has refused to accredit Atos nurses[10]
  • The Liberal Democrat Party voted unanimously for a Motion calling for the WCA to be changed
  • The High Court has granted a Judicial Review against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on the basis that medical evidence for claimants with mental health issues should be obtained early in the assessment process
  • the National Audit Office criticised the DWP for not seeking financial redress for delays
  • The NAO noted “uncertainty of roles and responsibilities, poor record-keeping and irregular sitting of the Executive Management Board.”

 

Recording of WCAs is variable:

  • no information about the right to have WCA recorded, or how to request this, is provided on either the DWP or the Atos website
  • the Jobcentre said that, “There is no real need for customers to request and use the recording of their assessment.  The recording is only provided for the customer’s own personal use and must not be put into the public domain… If the customer is insistent on the recording being taken into account as evidence, these will be handled on an individual basis and the customer will need to provide consent for Atos Healthcare to share this information with Jobcentre Plus.”

 

Professor Harrington’s recommendations have not all been implemented:

  • work with Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society to develop better mental health descriptors has not been used by the DWP
  • Professor Harrington recommended unannounced visits to assessment centres, but this has not occurred[11]
  • there is no requirement for a claimant’s doctors to submit medical evidence
  • there is strong opposition to incorporating a real world test into the ESA assessment process
  • Atos is not required to provide data on the use of free text boxes during the WCA[12]

 

There is risk of breaching human rights:

  • a judge ruled that not requesting data from a claimant’s doctors may breach the Equality Act requirement for reasonable adjustment for claimants with mental health problems
  • the Welfare Reform Bill was not accompanied by a human rights memorandum, and there has not been any detailed analysis of the compatibility of the Bill with human rights obligations
  • conditionality and sanctions could lead to destitution, which would be inhumane or degrading treatment This is particularly problematic where disabled people are judged capable of work when in practice they cannot work; they may therefore struggle to comply with the requirements put on them.
  • The decision to time-limit contribution based ESA to 12 months has not been taken on the basis of any evidence that twelve months is a reasonable time frame in which to expect chronically ill or disabled people to have recovered and/or found work

 

Customer satisfaction with WCAs is low.  Problems include:

  • poor format of the assessment process:
    • irrelevant questions
    • lateral questions
    • lack of consideration from the claimant’s doctors
    • tick-box approach
    • increase in severity and prevalence of mental health problems as a result of the assessment[13]
    • doctors have noted that suicidal tendencies and self-harm are occurring in patients where the WCA is cited as a contributing factor
    • nearly 1000 complaints have been made against Atos so far this year
    • Citizen’s Advice Scotland has received 24 000 complaints about Atos and the WCA[14]
    • investigations have been started into 35 Atos HCPs

 

 


Where DLA falls down: Mobility and Wheelchair users

When I first applied for DLA I was refused.  I challenged this in a 2 ½ page letter that took me two weeks to write, explaining why the decision maker was wrong.  Essentially everything the decision maker had wriiten was wrong.

On mobility related issues, the decision maker said I could walk reasonably and slowly for three minutes.  The form I had filled in had various questions with tick boxes:

How well do you walk?

  • normal,
  • reasonable (e.g. slight limp),
  • poor (e.g. shuffle, heavy limp, stiff , balance problems),
  • very poor (e.g. dragging leg, stagger, need physical support)

How fast do you walk?

  • normal (> 60m/min),
  • slow (40-60m/min),
  • very slow (<40m/min)

I had ticked poor and very slow, and then explained in the text box that I shuffle, sometimes limp, and have problems with balance.  I think I mentioned weakness as well.  For the question, ‘how far can you walk (including any short stops) before you feel severe discomfort?’ I answered, 100m.  I explained that it took me three minutes to walk this far.  I also explained that I can only do this once in a day.  After that I am restricted to below 50m; any more and I would end up with increased weakness and pain and would worsen my overall state of health.

I don’t know where the decision maker got reasonably or slowly from.  I explained this in my letter, and so the reconsideration removed ‘reasonably’ and ‘slowly’ from the list of reasons why I don’t qualify for higher rate mobility.  But my ‘ability’ to walk for three minutes remained.

To me this suggests a major failing in the criteria for DLA.  To qualify for higher rate DLA, a person must be unable to walk at all, able to walk only a short way without severe discomfort, or would become very ill if walking was attempted.[1]  This is very high criteria: moderate discomfort is irrelevant – it has to be severe; short breaks in walking are irrelevant – they have to be long breaks; very slow walking doesn’t matter – if you can cover more than 50m, you can walk, regardless of how long it takes; repeatability doesn’t matter – if you can do it once, it doesn’t matter how restricted you are after that; if walking too much (in my case, covering over 50m in one go – ignoring ‘short’ breaks – more than once in a day) makes you more ill, it doesn’t count – it has to make you ‘very’ ill.

So despite the fact that I am a wheelchair and mobility scooter user, I don’t get higher rate mobility.  Not only this, but despite the fact that I cannot go out alone (except on a few local roads with my mobility scooter, which is too big to go on public transport) because I need someone to push my wheelchair, I don’t get lower rate mobility either.  This is because ‘guidance or supervision from another person’ refers only to behavioural problems, difficulties arising from being deaf or blind in a unfamiliar place, problems with talking to others or needing someone to keep an eye on you.  ‘Guidance or supervision’ does not include needing someone with you because of physical difficulties with walking.

Because I don’t get higher rate mobility, I also can’t get a Blue Badge.  But if I wish to go out somewhere in a car, I will also have my wheelchair in the back of the car for use at the destination.  This has to be got out of the car, on a road or in a car park, in order for me to be able to use it.  I have had multiple problems with doing this without the benefit of being able to park in a disabled space.  Sometimes the available parking spaces are very narrow, such that it is vastly easier to park by reversing in; but this would mean being unable to get the wheelchair out of the back.  So the wheelchair has to be got out first – in the car park, not in a space, with other cars trying to get past. Other times the car park is very busy with cars and people, and getting the wheelchair out whilst cars drive past is difficult.  When I am especially tired, I want the wheelchair to be brought round to the side of the car so that I can get straight in from the chair.  This isn’t possible if there is a car in the adjacent space; there simply isn’t room.

So I can’t get out on my own, and I can’t get out without physical support (i.e. a wheelchair or mobility scooter) but I don’t get any financial assistance with this.  Despite the time costs to the person who drives me somewhere or pushes my wheelchair, despite the costs of taxis, despite the extra cost of tickets because I need someone with me to get on public transport, despite the cost of purchasing, maintaining and insuring a wheelchair and mobility scooter, despite these costs and despite the fact that DLA is supposed to help with these extra costs that are experienced by people with disabilities, I don’t get any financial help.


[1] Other criteria for this are: being a double amputee, being blind or get higher rate care with severe mental impairment and severe behaviour problems.

If you can tweet you can work, and other such lies

Guest post from Latent Existence,

http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/if-you-can-tweet-you-can-work-and-other-such-lies/

Picture the scene: I am lying in bed on my front, with my head turned to the side. My right arm is flat on the bed, a phone propped up by my hand. The only part of me moving is my thumb, pressing the on screen keyboard. Pain is tearing through my body, what I feel in my arms, my legs and my hands is agonising. I don’t have the strength to lift any part of my body from the bed. And yet, I have one, tiny connection to the world  – I can send messages out through twitter, and I can receive replies, 140 characters at a time. This is my often my only interaction with anyone else at this point. Through twitter, I can talk to friends, take my mind off my pain and discuss something – anything else. When the pain is too much, I’ve got a support group of fellow sick people and we can commiserate about the pain.

Fortunately, I am not this incapacitated all of the time. No, much of the last few weeks I have been so energetic that I have been able lie back on a pile of pillows and type on a full keyboard for as much as a few minutes before the searing pain in my hands sets in. Sometimes, gasp, I can even make it to a different room in the house for a while.

And yet, according to Nadine Dorries MP, my usage of twitter means that I can work. I can’t get out of bed most of the time, but apparently I am a scrounger who is defrauding the benefit system.

Last September Dorries made a request on her blog for people to look out for people tweeting too much and report them to her. She also asked people to report anyone who tweeted a lot while on benefits to the Department of Work and Pensions. She went on to pick on someone who was waiting for surgery for arthritis on both feet for their prolific use of twitter.

It gets worse. There are now rumours that ATOS (The company paid to assess people, who have been known to declare people fit for work just before they die from their illness) will be checking twitter and other social networks for activity that indicates ability to use a computer for any length of time. Because, you know, that makes you fit for work. Now this may just be rumours, but it shows a huge problem with public and government attitude to the sick and disabled.

I want to work, I really do. I own a business that my father and I have built up over the last 17 months into something that has the potential to go somewhere. I started my business as a last resort, since both of us are disabled, to try and provide part time work for myself that could be done when I have the strength to do it, not strictly between 9am and 5pm. I have been trying to build up more web hosting and design work, and I even tried to carry on working from my bed when this relapse started nearly three months ago. Unfortunately I have reached the point where brain fog has killed my concentration, and pain and fatigue won’t let me keep going to long enough to finish any work related tasks.

I can write, but I couldn’t tell you when or how much I could write. I can tweet, but that’s because tweets are short, and (mostly) fit in between bouts of brain fog which stops me completing my thoughts. I can set up a website without leaving my bed, but who is going to hire me to do that when it might happen now or it might take me weeks because of my health? I could be brought a customers computer to remove viruses from, but then not have the strength or concentration to do it for days.

The fact is, I can’t work. I am not employable. If I had ANY chance at all of working, I would be desperately trying to save my business into which we have sunk time and money and worked so hard for the last year and a half. I have hurt myself trying to run my business and have had to give up and apply for ESA because I have no other choice. And yet, because I have a variable, invisible disease, I am highly likely to be deemed “Fit for work” by the Work Capability Assessment. I won’t have the strength to appeal against that and I won’t have a Citizens Advice Bureau to help me because they are all being shut down.

So I am going to carry on tweeting and blogging. I have precious little other contact with the world and I will lose my friends and my support group if I don’t. Someone looking at my online activity and judging me on it cannot see how long each blog post took me, or the pain that I have to endure to even communicate with others online. The portrayal by government and by media of all sick and disabled people as scroungers and cheats is disgusting and yet good people that should know better are taken in by it. If you think I should just lie here and be miserable while I wait to be denied my ESA, then screw you. You are the problem.

More on the despicable behaviour of Nadine Dorries

BMJ: Well enough to work? A report on ATOS by a GP.

Guardian: Frequent tweeting doesn’t make one a benefit cheat, Nadine Dorries

Lord Freud and Universal Credit – again

 

Lord Freud has written another piece about Universal Credit.  So I’ve written another response, and here it is.

 

Yes, Universal Credit should be simpler to work out withdrawal rates because there is just one withdrawal rate.  But then there are different disregard levels, so an individual may still struggle or need a computer to help them work it out – much like the benefits calculator that currently exists to allow a person to work out the effects of different situations.

Someone will still have to calculate the different components and how much a person or household is entitled to for each component, but that may be the DWP’s job.  And because tax-credits are removed, there is no need to apply to the HMRC.  So from the claimant’s view, applying is also simpler.

Online processing is supposed to give a more streamlined process.  I don’t know if this will be the case or not.  Certainly when I applied over the phone the form that was filled in for me was full of mistakes.  Filling in online meant no mistakes (or fewer mistakes) were made, because I had all the information I needed in front of me.  However I still needed support, partly because health-related benefits can be distressing to apply for.  For people competent with computers, I suspect using an online form is easier.  But for those who are not competent with computers; those who have other difficulties such as learning difficulties, dyslexia or illiteracy; those without computers or without internet; those with chaotic lifestyles or are living in hostels; for these and for others the emphasis on online submission will be detrimental.

I would have assumed that those who find online forms easier, such as because it avoids a trip to the Jobcentre, already submit online.  And those who find this too difficult will already go to the Jobcentre or use a telephone.  So why the need to change?  Should this not be about the customer’s best interest?

Furthermore, an application for Jobseeker’s necessitates repeated trips to the Jobcentre anyway.  So what’s wrong with one at the beginning of the application process?  If you have alternative plans for those who cannot manage online applications, why have them in the first place?

Comments about whether or not work is worthwhile, or more worthwhile, under Universal Credit deserve fuller attention so I shan’t address them here.

The line about ‘most people at work are paid monthly’ gets a little tiring.  The argument against is not about what most people get.  It is about what people at the bottom of the income ladder get; it is about what it is reasonable to expect of people who often already face numerous challenges that may include poor arithmetic skills; and it is about what is best for the people concerned.

If you have alternative plans for those who cannot manage on monthly pay-packets, why have them in the first place?

I’m confused by the ‘new’ conditions on working part-time and claiming benefit.  As far as I was aware, a person could only work up to 16 hours whilst retaining benefit; this was to encourage people to seek some work whilst continuing to have the requirement of looking for full-time work.  Anyone who had caring duties could claim Income Support to top-up part-time work.  I don’t know what ‘new’ conditions have been brought in, unless part-time work is to be discouraged.  Which would be unfortunate given the difficulty of finding full-time work in the current climate, and would keep people away from the labour market for longer.

Lord Freud seems to have hinted at a partial benefit for those who are ill.  Other countries have partial benefit schemes whereby those who are deemed too ill for full-time work but capable of part-time work are given partial benefits.  Some countries also top this up with an unemployment benefit if the person concerned cannot find part-time work.  But as far as I am aware, there has been no suggestion of this by the government.  I am therefore unsure what Lord Freud means when he says, “If someone can’t work full-time because of an illness or caring responsibilities or simply because a full-time job isn’t available, then we will not place additional expectations on them.”  People who cannot work full-time because of an illness do have expectations placed on them – it is called the Work-Related Activity Group.

I also imagine it could be very difficult to determine who is not working full-time “because a full-time job isn’t available,” as opposed to lack of trying.  This would also be a new policy I have not heard of before.

I can’t say whether “speculation” that the IT system will fail is true or not.  I can point out that such large schemes generally do have problems.  But concern about failure, when the concern is based on many past failures and difficulties, is not defeatist.  It is a pragmatic request that things are done properly the first time, taking the time necessary to do so.  It isn’t that “people believe we shouldn’t changes the system because it is hard.”  Rather, it is that given we are changing the system, we should do it properly.

Lord Freud correctly says that, assuming full take up under both the current system and the new one, Universal Credit will involve an extra £2 billion in spending.  Which leaves the unsettling question that if UC brings higher payments and pensioners are not being touched at all, where are the savings coming from?  In large part, the savings are coming from the fact that rises in benefits will no longer be inline with the Retail Price Index, and will instead rise with the Consumer Price Index.  This means that benefits will rise at a lower level, thus giving the savings.  This also counteracts the government’s anti-poverty measures.

This is Lord Freud’s article in the Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/01/universal-credit-debunking-myths