Tag Archive | government

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:



(Why We’re Not) Benefit Scroungers: Extract 2

The one thing I am absolutely unreservedly and implacably opposed to in all of this is a real world test.” – Chris Grayling, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, 2011.

But the current, not-real-world test isn’t working.

It is not uncommon for a claimant to be signed off work by a GP, and yet be refused benefits.[1]  Nor is it unknown for an employer to consider an employee to be too ill to return to work, yet the employee is refused ESA.[2]  The DWP argue that this is because the ESA assessment considers the ability to carry out any job, not just the one the claimant was in before becoming ill.  However this still conflicts with the GP’s judgement, and the questions asked are so poor that it is often unclear what job the DWP has in mind when assessing a person as fit for work. …

When a system works well, appeals against decisions occur in marginal cases.  In terms of the WCA, the only people appealing should be those who received just under the required points.  After all, most people know whether or not they can walk 200m, dress themselves, prepare a meal, remember to take all their medicine etc.  They won’t appeal if they can appreciate that the decision was fair (n.b. fraud in DLA costs a mere 0.5% of DLA payments, less than the cost of official error.  Fraud in Incapacity Benefit is even lower at 0.3%.  ESA will not be assessed until 2013).  Yet up to February 2010, 60% of appeals overturned in favour of the claimant were for cases that had originally been awarded zero points.  A further 23% had been awarded between 3 and 6 points (there are no 1 or 2 point descriptors), leaving just 17% who had been awarded between 7 and 14 points.[3]  This is unacceptable.  A high percentage of claimants are failing to even come close to having a proper assessment of their health made. …

There is high variability between decision makers [who are non-medical staff at the Department of Work and Pensions].   Professor Harrington, the head of the independent reviews into the ESA assessment, said that “consistency and quality of decision making appear to be key issues.”  This is particularly the case now that Harrington’s previous recommendations have led to an increased importance of the decision maker’s role, relative to the ATOS assessment. …

Professor Paul Gregg, before the WCA was rolled out nationally, reported that, “the test so far has caused a huge amount of anguish to the people who have gone through it. We need to have something that is working accurately before we apply it nationally. We shouldn’t roll this out until we have something that is working.”[4]  Gregg was involved in the design of the new system (ESA and WCA)and  has been described as “one of the most rigorous and high-impact social policy academics in the UK.”[5]

[1] Dryburgh, Unfit for Purpose, 2010, Citizen’s Advice Scotland. http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/unfit-purpose

[2] Dryburgh and Lancashire,The Work Capability Assessment, 2010, Citizen’s Advice Scotland http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/work-capability-assessment

[3] HC Deb, 28 June 2011, c662W

[4] New disability test “is a complete mess,” says expert. 22nd Feb 2011, The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/22/new-disability-test-is-a-complete-mess

[5]Baumberg, September 27th 2012, Paul Gregg: new ideas for disability, employment and welfare reform. Inequalities. http://inequalitiesblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/paul-gregg-disability-employment-speech/

Compassionate Conservatives

Today is Cameron’s speech at the Conservative conference.  Before he made his speech, Sue Marsh released this list of changes made by his government that do not fit the description “compassionate.”

Halving Support for disabled children,

Scrapping the “Youth Premium” that ensured independence for the most profoundly disabled children;

Scrapping Crisis Loans;

Cutting housing support for disabled people;

Cutting council budgets so hard that they cannot provide social care to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities;

Introducing PIP to replace DLA with the aim of cutting 500,000 vulnerable people from the figures without a single assessment;

Introducing unlimited, unpaid work for those with significant illnesses or disabilities;

Cutting all benefit support for sick and disabled people appealing their ESA decisions;

Lying to the public about Work Capability Assessments and failing to make them fit for purpose while disabled people suffer and die;

Encouraging hate crime by constantly feeding the media “scrounger” stories about the sick and disabled;

Closing Remploy factories, throwing over 1500 working disabled people on the scrapheap;

Exaggerating fraud rates and implying all sick and disabled people are “feckless, festering, stock”;

Lying about the levels of disability benefit fraud repeatedly and feeding politicised press releases to the media;

Turning neighbour on neighbour and fostering a climate of hate towards the sick and disabled;

Forcing cancer patients to the jobcentre;

Privatising our health service despite promises that you would protect it;

Rationing access to NHS treatment;

Cutting respite care despite promising you understood and would help;

Suggesting in PIP that a sick or disabled person can “bathe” if they can wash above the waist only;

Re-classifying paraplegics as “fully mobile” if they use their wheelchairs too well;

Blocking improvement in Atos assessments;

Lying about Workfare repeatedly to the press;

Falsifying internet documents to make your workfare lies look like the truth.
The full blog can be found here: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/

Culture of Worklessness

This is an extract from a book I am writing that didn’t make it through the editing process.  The book, on disability and welfare in the UK, should be published at the beginning of December.  This extract uses quotes from Iain Duncan Smith’s speech to the US Congress as a starting point for an analysis of the government’s belief in a ‘Culture of Worklessness.’

“Not everyone is starting from the same place. There is no point assuming, for example, that everyone understands the intrinsic benefits of work, the feelings of self-worth, or the opportunity to build self-esteem. If you are dealing with someone from a family where no one has ever held work, or no one in their circle of peers has ever held work, there is no point in simply lecturing them about the moral purpose of work.  What you must tackle is the biggest demotivating factor that many people face – the fact that the complexity of the system and the way it is set up creates the clear perception that work simply does not pay. Thus, after generations in key communities, worklessness has become ingrained into everyday life. The cultural pressure to conform to this lifestyle is enormous, underscored by the easy perception that taking a job is a mug’s game. It is this factor which can stop someone’s journey back to work in its tracks…

“Take some of the figures we were confronted with when we came into office: 5 million people – some 12% of the working age population – on out of work benefits, 1 million of them stuck there for a decade or more. 1 in every 5 UK households had no one working, and almost 2 million children were growing up in workless families. This was the cultural challenge we faced – entrenched and intergenerational worklessness and welfare dependency…”

Iain Duncan Smith is misleading on several points.  The “1 in every 5 UK households [that] had no-one working” means 3.9m households at the end of 2011 compared to 3.5m before the recession.  Of adults who are out of work, and of households with no-one working, only 10% have never worked.  Over half of these 500k adults (370k households) are under-25 – that is more than 250k adults and 185k households.  73k of these are student households; of the remaining 113k some will have left education and be looking for, but not yet found, a job.  1/6th are over 25 and disabled or long-term sick.  Of the remaining third, some are seeking work but unable to find it whilst others have caring roles.  A mere 10% – that is 1% of the unemployed – have no obvious reason for not working.  “It is a serious mistake to proceed as if this 1% is somehow the essence of the problem of worklessness.”[1]

The “1 million of them stuck there for a decade or more” includes people who have worked in the past, and people who are receiving Incapacity Benefit/Employment and Support Allowance.  Given that only 500k adults have never worked, of whom 125k are under 25, it is clear that 725k of this 1 million have worked in the past.  What is not clear is how many of these have been unemployed from ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than because of caring roles or long-term disability or sickness.

The 2 million children in workless families is again going to refer to some children whose parents are not unemployed through choice.  Most of these – approximately 1.25m – are in lone parent households; it is difficult for lone parents to bring up children, particularly those still at primary school, whilst holding down a full-time job, and part-time jobs do not always fit easily with school hours.  Childcare costs are high, with the result that having a job and paying for child care may result only in the children not seeing much of their parent.  Only half of lone parents are able to hold down a job as well as raise children.  If the government wants to discuss workless families, it needs to do more to help lone parents, or simply recognise that it is valid for a lone parent to commit most of her (or his) time to raising children.

As for “entrenched and intergenerational worklessness and welfare dependency” – this is not just misleading, it is all but untrue.  Two-generational worklessness is rare – just 0.9% of households consist of workless parents with adult children.  Only 0.1% are households where neither parents nor adult children have ever worked.  That is 15 530 households, and in many of these younger generation has been out of education not even a year.  Inter-generational worklessness includes cases where the parents and children are not cohabiting, but sons with workless fathers are only 3% more likely to have never been in employment from 16-23[2].   And some of these will be households where there are good reasons for the parents or children to be out of work, such as for health reasons.  But even in these households, it is not necessarily “entrenched and intergenerational.”  These children will have extended family members who work, peers who work and peer’s parents who work.  It is fact of statistics that some people who are unemployed will also have parent’s who are unemployed; there are many reasons why two generations are unemployed other than a culture of worklessness.

“There is also nothing in these official statistics to suggest that households that have never worked deserve to be seen, or treated, differently from other workless households.”[3]


“They [workfare companies] are given complete freedom to deliver support, without Government dictating what they must do, through what we call the “black box”. That means trusting that these organisations are best placed to know what works.”   This trust seems to be misplaced.  Mr Hutchinson, then head of internal audit at A4e, spoke of multiple instances of fraud in A4e and in Working Links, with whom he had been previously employed.  Mr Hutchinson claims that, “Where I made recommendations to tighten controls, or strengthen policies and procedures, my advice was not heeded,” and questions whether “significant enhancements” were introduced when A4e won a government contract to provide the new Work Programme. “If this had been the case, I would have found it extremely odd that the numbers of suspected frauds and irregularities should continue to prevail and increase, as was the case at the time of my departure from A4e in 2011.”[4] A4e has since been investigated and found to have significant weaknesses in its work relating to Mandatory Work Activity in the South-East, whilst several of its employees are under police investigation for fraud.[5]   The National Audit Office also concluded that the DWP missed vital evidence in its investigation of fraud in A4e.[6]

“Work Programme service users cannot judge whether they are getting the level of service the Department intends because standards are not set out in one place… There is a risk that providers are less clear about how to abide by the terms and spirit of delivering a programme and that claimants have less clarity about the level of service they should expect to receive.”[7]


“We are already seeing positive signs that this cultural change is beginning to happen. Though the overall economic outlook is still poor, the jobs figures for the last 3 consecutive months in the UK showed some encouraging signs of stability, particularly stronger than expected growth in jobs from the private sector.”

However, this was all in part-time jobs, taken largely by people who want full-time but are unable to get it; the total number of full-time jobs fell.  “Virtually all employment growth is coming from part-time and temporary jobs but most of the people taking them want and need permanent, full-time work.”[8]  Much of the growth came from self-employment, but it is dangerous to consider exchanging one form of vulnerable There are reasons to be concerned that the large rise in self-employment, given the weak state of the economy, may reflect disguised under-employment rather than burst of entrepreneurial zeal.[9]  The number of people in involuntary part-time work (i.e. they want, but can’t find, full-time work) has risen to 1.41m, a record high.  There are also 607k workers in temporary positions who want permanent work.  Real wage continues to fall.  This, combined with the rise in underemployment, “suggests that the labour market is not tightening as much as the headline figures suggest.”

[1] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2011

[2] Intergenerational Worklessness

[3] Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2011

[6] National Audit Office

[7] National Audit Office

[8] TUC, Male under-employment has doubled over the last four years. 15th May 2012 http://www.tuc.org.uk/economy/tuc-21009-f0.cfm

[9] TUC, Labour Market Report no. 27 2nd July 2012 http://www.tuc.org.uk/economy/tuc-21162-f0.cfm

Troubled Families

I was going to write only one post a week on disability and welfare, because the concentration and typing do make me worse, in terms of pain and fatigue.  But Ms Odone’s article in the Telegraph today has annoyed me so much that I have to write something, otherwise I will just end up ranting to every poor person I talk to this evening.

“But a social worker on the sofa is of little use to an unemployed alcoholic who’s been claiming disability benefits for years – or a single mother who has had three children by the time she’s 20, never held a job, and is now crippled with depression.”  Now I would have said one of the most important things is to listen before you act.  If you don’t know whats going on, how can you know what will help?

I was also very intrigued by the different conclusions made from what defines a troubled family.  For Ms Odone, its clearly the state that is the problem.  Ms Williams, writing in the Guardian, reaches the opposite conclusion – that the problem is poverty.  I look at the seven criteria and see: poverty, poverty, poverty, low education, health problem, health problem, and poverty.  Health problems, especially mental health, can be made worse and are more likely when a person is in poverty.

Ms Odone says that it is possible to get more on unemployment benefit than in a job.  This is also misleading, given that a person on a low income also receives benefits.  Whilst the income itself might not match that of full out-of-work benefits, the combination of a low-paid job and in-work benefits is better.

Ms Odone comments on millions being lost to disability fraud.  Which is true.  But she has taken it out of context, and the context is a society where many people have debilitating conditions that make their lives more expensive.  It is a natural consequence of any test that there will be some false positive (fraud) and some false negative (those wrongly denied help).  With false positives at 0.5%, it is vastly more important to the welfare of millions of people that the government starts focussing on bringing down the flase negative rate.

Finally, Ms Odone argues that the cap on benefits is already getting people back into work.  My previous post explains why this is misleading to the point of being untrue.