Saturday, November 30, 2013

,It is already an Omnishambles with no recovery for millions' - Ed Balls on Osborne's Autumn Statement:

Shadow Chancellor predicts more panicky changes after last year’s chaotic U-turns on the pasty tax, the caravan tax and the charities tax

Omnishambles: Ed Balls is predicting more U-turns from George Osborne
Omnishambles: Ed Balls is predicting more U-turns from George Osborne

From the man who gave us the ‘Omnishambles’ Budget, we’re now getting Omnishambles 2.

After last year’s Budget, Chancellor George Osborne was forced into chaotic U-turns on the pasty tax, the caravan tax and the charities tax.

This time the U-turns have started before he’s even made his speech.

With four days until the Autumn Statement, we’ve already had panicky changes in government policy: on payday loans, cigarette packaging, energy subsidies and bank lending.

Britain deserves better. That’s why Ed Miliband and I are setting out Labour’s long-term plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and earn our way to higher living standards for all.

Because, for all the welcome reports that the economy is finally growing again, for millions of families there is still no recovery at all.

After three damaging years of flatlining, prices are still rising much faster than wages.

Working people are now on average over £1,600 a year worse off since David Cameron came to office.

But David Cameron and George Osborne are so out of touch they have chosen to give people earning over £150,000 a huge tax cut.

So we need change, not more of the same.

Labour will take action to build more homes, expand apprenticeships and back small firms by cutting business rates and setting up a British Investment Bank.

We’ll make work pay by expanding free childcare for working parents of three and four year olds to 25 hours per week, and introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed.

And Labour will freeze gas and electricity bills until 2017 while we make long-term changes to the energy market.

On energy, the test for George Osborne is this: whatever he announces must both stop bills rising this winter and make the energy companies pay for it, not the taxpayer.

We don’t need more half-measures and panicky climbdowns from the Omnishambles Chancellor.
Only a price freeze will do.


Struggling families raiding savings and racking up debt just to EAT as household budgets suffer

The findings will make grim reading for Chancellor George Osborne as he puts the finishing touches to his Autumn Statement

Autumn statement: George Osborne
Autumn statement: George Osborne
Millions of struggling ­families can only afford to eat by dipping into savings or racking up credit card debts.
One in five households say their budget failed to cover food and other household bills last month.

The findings will make grim reading for Chancellor George Osborne as he puts the finishing touches to his Autumn Statement to Parliament on Thursday.

Despite the country seeing the return of economic growth, many families are worse off than before the recession, a cost-of-living survey by consumer group Which? found.

Average wages have grown by just 0.7 per cent in the past three months, but food prices have risen 4.3 per cent and gas and electricity costs have jumped more than 8 per cent.

Which? says people on the lowest incomes have been worst hit, with families earning less than £12,500 a year seeing a 1 per cent year-on-year decline in their spending power.

The watchdog’s consumer insight tracker, published monthly, reveals that rising energy prices remain people’s top concern.

Trust in the power giants is at an all-time low, with three in five customers saying they don’t believe the suppliers act in households’ best interest.

Richard Lloyd, of Which?, said: “Eight in 10 people say it would make a difference to their standard of living if the ­Government cuts energy bills in the Autumn Statement so we look to the ­Chancellor to stand up for consumers this week.”

The survey shows people are seeing an improvement in the economy, with half of people saying it is in a poor state compared with seven in 10 a year ago.

But only one in six families think the revival has had a positive impact on their own standard of living.
Mr Lloyd added: “It’s good news for the Chancellor that people are feeling more optimistic about the economy, but times are still tough.”

100,000 sign War On Welfare petition asking for assessment of cuts to the sick and disabled

The achievement means the issue must be considered for debate in the House of Commons

Ian Duncan Smith: The petition is addressed to Mr Smith's work and pensions department
Ian Duncan Smith: The petition is addressed to Mr Smith's work and pensions department
A hundred thousand people have signed a petition calling on the Department for Work and Pensions to look again at all cuts affecting sick and disabled people.

Led by comedian and campaigner Francesca Martinez, the War On Welfare or WOW e-petition asks the government to carry out a Cumulative Impact Assessment looking at the overall effect of cuts to sick and disabled people, as well and their families and carers.

It also asks for MPs to be given a free vote on the repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

Campaigners are demanding an end to the Work Capability Assessment, and an independent inquiry into issues including charges for care homes, ATOS, and the closure of Remploy factories.

They also want to put a stop to "forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits".

The petition has achieved its target of 100,000 signatures with 12 days to spare before it closed.

Celebrities including Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Yoko Ono and Bianca Jagger have endorsed the campaign.

This means is now must be considered for a debate in the House of Commons.

The Leader of the House of Commons will now write to the Backbench Business Committeeto notify them that a petition has collected the necessary100,000 signatures.

A backbench MP must then come out in support of a debate at the Committee's weekly meeting.
If the Committee agrees, then a debate will be scheduled in the House of Commons and televised.

‘Welfare reforms forced me to scavenge for supermarket food’

A disabled man has described how he was forced to scavenge for food from supermarket bins, as a result of the government’s welfare reforms.

Clive Baulch was one of about 20 disabled people who presented personal evidence about the impact of the government’s austerity programme on their human rights, during a testimony session in London.

A recording of the session – organised by Inclusion London and Disabled People Against Cuts – will be sent to Shuaib Chalklen,  the UN’s special rapporteur on disability, whose job is to monitor progress around the world towards equal opportunities.

He had been due to visit England to attend the meeting and the launch of a human rights report but had to postpone the trip at short notice.

Baulch told the meeting how he was made redundant in April 2012, three years after he became disabled through a massive stroke.

In November 2012 he had his benefits stopped because he was told he hadn’t been “looking for work diligently”, even though he had applied for 600 jobs.

Within days he had run out of money. “I was in pretty dire straits. I tried begging. I also tried three in the morning round the back of the supermarkets looking in skips. I spent a lot of my days ‘striving’.”

He told Disability News Service later that he had taken food from supermarket skips on about five occasions.

He had also tried using a food bank, and added: “There are people migrating around London, going from food bank to food bank, including a lot of people with mental health problems.”

He has diabetes, and he described how his health deteriorated and he had to be hospitalised last December.
Just when he had stabilised his blood sugar level, six months later, he had his employment and support allowance removed after being found fit for work, following a work capability assessment carried out by Atos.

Baulch is currently waiting for an appeal against the government’s decision to find him fit for work.
It is the second time that a disabled person has spoken publicly of being forced to scavenge for food from supermarket bins.

Earlier this year, a member of the Disabled Activists Network Wales (DAN Cymru) told how disabled people were being taught to scavenge for free food in supermarket skips and dustbins because they could not afford to feed themselves.


Testimony for UN hears of food banks and suicides

Disabled people have travelled from across the country to have their testimony about the impact of government cuts recorded so that it can be passed to a UN human rights expert.

They spoke of friends who had killed themselves in despair after losing their benefits, of disabled people forced to use food banks, and of being unfairly found fit for work through the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) system.

Many also spoke of the importance of the Independent Living Fund – which the government wants to close – in maintaining choice and control in their lives.

A recording of the session will be sent to Shuaib Chalklen,  the UN’s special rapporteur on disability, whose job is to monitor progress around the world towards equal opportunities.

He had been due to visit London to attend the meeting, and the launch of a human rights report the following day, but had to postpone the trip at short notice.

Jimmy Telesford, from south London, who previously worked at Brent Association of Disabled People (BADP) before it collapsed earlier this year, told the session: “At Brent for the first time I had disabled people come to me saying they had got no money and they had no-one to help them.”

He described how one woman with learning difficulties was sanctioned by Jobcentre Plus because she didn’t realise she had to look for a job.

Telesford, who is now trying to build up BADP again, said: “You are not talking about people who don’t have enough, you are talking about people who have no money.

“We are supposed to be the seventh richest country in the world and I have to say to people that they have to go to this food bank.

“So whether somebody eats is down to a group of volunteers, and I think there is something fundamentally wrong about that.”

The writer and performer Sophie Partridge said: “I have been receiving funding from the ILF for almost my entire adult life and that has enabled me to live independently and do the things I do.

“I work, I am involved with my community, my family, my friends, because I am able to employ my own PAs to provide pretty much a full-time care package which is pretty much all day every day.

“I am really, really concerned that the ILF is reopened and reopened to new users so every disabled person with high access needs can have the same quality of life as I do.”

Another activist, Robert Punton, said: “I am a disabled person living in a disabling society. Like everybody else in this room I have one major occupation and that is to ensure I continue to live independently in society and continue to do the things that I do.”

He said the support workers he employed “provides valuable pounds to the economy”.

He added: “We are not scroungers, we are not people sitting around, we are people doing jobs to ensure that everybody in society continues to live.”

He said that for every disabled person giving testimony there were “thousands and thousands of disabled people living in prisons in their own homes, isolated, who cannot be here today to make their points. Those are the people the UN should be aware of as well.”

Angela, from Brent, another disabled person who was providing testimony, said: “There is not enough support for people like me. At the moment I am relying on my brother to help and he has mental health problems. If he gets ill, I really will be on my own.”

She added: “I am glad disabled people are not sitting quiet. We need to expose this injustice.”

Anne Pridmore, one of the five disabled people who successfully took a court case against the government over its decision to close the Independent Living Fund (ILF), described how ILF had transformed her life.

She said she only had 20 minutes of care in the morning and another 20 in the evening when she was first “thrown in the hands of social services” in 1984. Now, thanks to ILF, she receives 24-hour care.

Pridmore, director of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ personal assistants, said: “If ILF finishes, my life is over. They could put me into an old people’s home.

“ILF has enabled me to travel all over Europe fighting for human rights; I have run some major organisations in this country.

“It has been an absolute godsend for me. Without it, I just don’t want to go on living.”

Maria Nash, who took an unsuccessful but high-profile court case against Barnet council over the outsourcing of local services. and is a director of Barnet Centre for Independent Living, said: “The government needs to take action and stop threatening us with the loss of benefits. It is creating huge problems, we are losing the will to live.

“Every day we are hearing that people are losing benefits and people are committing suicide.”

Several of those giving testimony found it hard to restrain their emotions.

Paula Peters described how her friend, who had bipolar disorder, had been found fit for work and told her doctor that she wanted to die, before jumping to her death at a train station in 2010.

Peters attempted to take her own life in January 2011. She said the stress of dealing with the WCA system was “horrendous” and although the “relief was massive” when she was found not fit for work, her fear soon returned. Her mental health has never stabilised.

She said: “This process is inhuman and so torturous. It has killed 18 of my friends through the stress and worry of it.

“I only want to ask why. There are thousands of people who have died due to the WCA and I just want this to stop.”

Another emotion-charged moment came after Martin Tolley, from Ipswich, described the constant pain he was in due to a chronic medical condition.

He said his health “took one heck of a nose dive” when he was going through the WCA process. He said DWP had failed to take his circumstances into consideration, and that when he told his physiotherapist he had been placed in the work-related activity group – for those expected to move towards employment – she “hit the roof”.

He cried as he finished his testimony by launching an attack on the government, who he said were “guilty of murder”.

He said later that he had eventually been placed in the support group – for those not expected to carry out any work-related activity – after his case had been reconsidered.

Anthony Jefferson, a trustee of the National Association of Deafened People, said it was well-know that during a recession “deaf people are the first to go and the last to be employed”.

He said: “They don’t understand how difficult it is to get jobs out there. I am talking for all deaf people and everybody with invisible disabilities. It is about lack of patience and lack of awareness and lack of training.”

Paul, another of those who presented testimony to the meeting, described how being put through the WCA system had made him seriously ill. “It has been 11 months I have been going through it, getting worse and worse.

“The advice from doctors is I have to stop thinking about it and put it out of my mind, but nobody understands the pressure we are put under when we are being assessed.”

Phillip Rackham added: “They want disabled people to work, but how can we work if there are not jobs for disabled people?”

The mother of a young woman with learning difficulties and a visual impairment described how her daughter was being denied a mainstream education, with the only place offered a residential special college 90 miles away.

She said: “Our family have been left isolated, [my daughter] isn’t receiving any social care support and education.

“If they have their own way she will be in residential accommodation, which is 90 miles away.”


New fears of PIP ‘chaos’

New evidence has emerged of serious delays with the roll-out of the government’s new personal independence payment (PIP), after the parents of a disabled teenager told how he had been left for months without his disability benefits.

They have been waiting nearly three months without any communication from Atos Healthcare, the company carrying out the PIP assessments in London and the south of England.

The parents of Kai Rollinson, who live with their son on the outskirts of London, submitted his PIP form in early September, but have had no written communication from Atos since then.

Kai has been without benefits since he turned 16 in July, while his mother has lost her carer’s allowance, and the family have slipped into debt.

Kai’s step-father, Nick Grason, said the family had been told by DWP when they complained that there had been problems and delays with PIP and that they should complain to Atos.

He said: “It is extremely frustrating and stressful. You can never really speak to anyone at Atos who takes responsibility or actually comes back to you.”

Although they have had confirmation on the phone from Atos that Kai’s application form did arrive, there has been no written communication, even though DWP told them the assessment process should take only four to six weeks.

This week’s concerns have alarmed disabled campaigners, who fear they are further signs that the entire reform process – in which working-age disability living allowance is slowly being replaced by the new PIP – is in trouble.

Jane Young, an independent consultant who gives advice to the Department for Work and Pensions on aspects of the PIP reforms, said: “Unfortunately this is just more evidence of a degree of chaos.

“There appear to be significant delays at every stage in the claims process and some claimants are understandably finding it stressful to have to wait many weeks for a decision.

“Feedback from all over the country indicates that the process is taking a great deal longer than expected.
“DWP staff fully acknowledge the problems, but changing anything at the department feels a bit like trying to turn a supertanker.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We will not be commenting on this individual case. We will, however, be in touch with the individual directly with an update.”

Atos has refused to comment, but its problems with both its PIP and DLA assessment work appear to be mounting.

DWP had to delay the start of the PIP reassessment process from 7 October to 28 October, after the then minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, was forced by a judicial review taken by disabled people to order a new consultation on proposals to tighten the walking distance criteria for the PIP enhanced mobility rate from 50 to 20 metres.

DWP was then forced to order further delays to the reassessment of many existing DLA claimants, with nearly all of the reassessments due to take place in Atos areas delayed.

DWP decision-makers have also been left without expert medical advice for their more difficult DLA and attendance allowance claims, after Atos withdrew from much of the contract.

Atos has apparently been carrying out some assessments of new PIP claimants – those who haven’t previously claimed DLA – but there are no figures yet to demonstrate how many have actually taken place.

In October, DNS revealed that crisis meetings had taken place at jobcentres across the country because Atos had a serious shortage of doctors able to carry out assessments.

Meanwhile, the National Audit Office is continuing its investigation into the award of at least one of the PIP contracts to Atos – following a DNS investigation – as part of a study into the new benefit and its implementation.

Atos had won the contract by boasting that it had arranged a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England, before later confessing that it had only secured 96.

The huge drop in the number of Atos assessment centres will lead to much higher average journey times by PIP claimants than Atos had promised in order to win the contract.

Even without the new PIP contracts, Atos was already performing more than 10,000 tests a week to reassess claimants of incapacity benefit for employment and support allowance (ESA), as well as assessing thousands of new ESA claimants every week.


WOW Petition heading for 100,000 names… and a debate in the Commons

A disabled comedian has accused the government of making disabled people beg for their benefits, as the petition she has spearheaded for the last year appeared certain to reach its target of 100,000 people within days.

Francesca Martinez was speaking to Disability News Service as the War On Welfare (WOW) Petition passed 97,000 names.

For the first nine months, it seemed as though the petition was going to fall short of its 100,000 target.

But in the last few weeks, it has taken a huge leap forward after securing more mainstream attention in publications like the Daily Mirror, and the petition now looks certain to reach its target before the cut-off point of 12.12pm on 12 December.

If it reaches that mark, it should force a debate in the House of Commons on its demands, which include the need for a cumulative impact assessment on the cuts and other reforms affecting disabled people, and an immediate end to the much-criticised work capability assessment.

In the last three months, Martinez has been tweeting up to 50 times a day in a bid to see the petition reach its target.

She said: “I am not a pushy person, but I think it’s worth it. A lot of people are not aware of how bad things are and how much the government is eroding basic human rights.”

She added: “I find it disgusting about these policies that they are making us beg and they are painting disabled people as a group in society who want to live off the state.

“It is absolutely disgusting, this perception of disability that is being tarnished, [suggesting] that disabled people are lazy and workshy.”

Although Martinez has been the face of the WOW Petition, the campaign was not her idea. She was approached last year by a group of campaigners who asked her to front the petition.

She said: “They are totally committed. I think it is a brilliant illustration of normal people making a difference and challenging that awful apathetic feeling that things are shit but we can’t really do anything. I just find that very inspiring.

“I have learned that there is always something that you can do if you care and you get together with other people that care; you can make a difference.

“The main thing for me is that people are coming together and trying and demanding better. I have been humbled by seeing that.”

Martinez is heavily involved in the mainstream anti-cuts movement, The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which is promising protests and direct action over the next year.

Asked if she will take part in any direct action – and risk arrest – she said: “I have never been arrested. All of my heroes have been arrested. I guess at some point I should be arrested.

“Yes, I think we all have to get our hands dirty at some point. I know People’s Assembly is planning a big march in the spring and direct action will be a big part of that.

“One thing that spurs me on is that so many disabled people cannot leave their houses and protest because of their disability. I think there is a huge duty on all those of us who can to go out and speak up for them.

“It breaks my heart to think that the government have targeted people because they think they will not be able to fight back.”

Martinez believes the tide may – finally – be turning, away from the government’s welfare reforms and towards an acceptance of the need for social security.

She said: “Perhaps because we are being attacked on so many levels, people may finally be waking up to realising, ‘Maybe that is not the kind of world we want. Maybe we do not want people to suffer because of their income.’”

She said the petition was “really about ensuring that when people are faced with illness or disability that life doesn’t become an awful struggle for finances”.

She added: “In a civilised society I think we should protect people in that time rather than make their lives harder.”


IDS spends £75,000 to LEARN Bedroom Tax is hated

The money spent by the DWP on something we could have told him for free would have paid the tax for more than 5,300 of its victims

Unpopular policy: Iain Duncan Smith's Bedroom Tax
Unpopular policy: Iain Duncan Smith's Bedroom Tax
Iain Duncan Smith has spent more than £75,000 of taxpayers’ money on polling the popularity of the Bedroom Tax.

The money spent by the Work and Pensions Secretary would have paid the tax for more than 5,300 victims of the hated policy.

The Department of Work and Pensions paid pollsters Ipsos Mori £14,700 to run a poll on the impact of the bedroom tax and a further £60,920 on polling and a report into its benefit reforms.

The results were then used by the Conservative-led Government to try to justify the policy which docks housing benefit by an average of £14 a week for anyone in a council or housing association property deemed to have a spare room.

But the polling revealed that a majority of people thought the Bedroom Tax was unfair if victims had no smaller home to move to.

Campaigners warned Mr Duncan Smith that tens of thousands of disabled people are now having to cutback on food and heating because of the tax. The bosses of more than 50 charities have written to Iain Duncan Smith saying his hated policy is having a “devastating impact” on people with disabilities.

In a bluntly-worded letter, they say that nine in 10 disabled claimants or their carers are having to cut back on food and heating as a result of the tax.

Labour MP Phil Wilson said: “The Government didn’t need a poll to tell them how disastrous the Bedroom Tax is. Rather than spending thousands of taxpayer pounds they could have listened to the thousands of hardworking families who will be affected by this unfair and unjust policy.

“Ministers are more focused on PR than delivering effective policy. This is an out-of-touch Government standing up for the wrong people.

“At a time of deep cuts to welfare ministers need to justify this polling which will look like waste to a country hurting from this Tory-led Government’s policies.”

A Department of Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Polling plays an important and cost effective part of our broader research work, which helps to practically inform our policy making and helps us better understand how our policies impact people.”


DWP ‘cover-up’ over Work Choice allegations

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing accusations of a double cover-up, after altering two sets of guidelines, both of which had allegedly been breached by one of its specialist welfare-to-work providers.

Seetec is being investigated by DWP over claims that it has been artificially inflating the number of jobs it has found for disabled people through the Work Choice scheme.

Two whistleblowers told Disability News Service (DNS) how the company has been offering Work Choice clients as free labour to charities and other host organisations, and then paying their wages itself for the next six months – through its “wage incentive scheme” – while allegedly pretending to DWP that the salaries were being paid by the host organisations.

The same whistleblowers – and a third ex-Seetec employee – have also told DNS how the company has been breaching DWP guidelines by not paying for in-depth checks on the criminal records of new staff who will be working with “vulnerable” disabled clients.

Earlier this month, DNS told how DWP had made no attempt to contact any of the whistleblowers about either of the sets of allegations, four months after the first claims were passed on to the government.

This week, it emerged that DWP has made a crucial change to guidance for Work Choice providers on criminal records checks (the so-called DWP Provider Guidance).

When providers were previously warned that an enhanced criminal records check “needs to be carried out” on every employee who will be working with vulnerable adults, the guidance now states only that such organisations “have additional legal obligations which may require them to obtain a different type of criminal record Disclosure Certificate”.

One of the whistleblowers, Perveen Sud, said she was “appalled” when she heard about this change to the guidance.

She said: “It is an outrage. This is purely to protect Seetec. It shows DWP are willing not to have due regard to the protection of vulnerable adults.”

This week, Sud finally heard from DWP about her evidence against Seetec, initially sent to the department on 30 August, although she has still not been interviewed about her claims.

The second whistleblower, Reena Gour, received a similar letter this week.

Sud’s letter says the law states that providers “must assess each position individually to determine whether there is a legal right to apply for the higher level checks”.

The letter adds: “Seetec made this determination not to conduct enhanced checks based on the legislative framework and advice provided to them at the time.”

Meanwhile, Sud’s letter confirms that “professionally trained and experienced investigators” are continuing to investigate the “concerns about Seetec claiming fraudulent Job outcomes under Wage Incentives”.

But Sud has also uncovered an addition to DWP ‘s latest memo to its Work Choice providers.

The memo points out as “added clarification” that providers are “not able to claim the Work Choice Wage Incentive when they are the employer”.

She said she feared this meant that DWP was preparing the ground to allow Seetec to claim that it was not aware it was breaching the rules with its wage incentive scheme.

Sud said: “I really am concerned about a potential cover-up here.”

So far, DWP has failed to explain why it changed the two pieces of guidance, and why it has failed to interview the two whistleblowers about their allegations.

Seetec said earlier this month that it had “received expert advice from appropriate parties” about the disclosures and was “assured that it meets requirements”.

It also said earlier this month that it was “unaware” of any investigations into the fraud claims.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow employment minister, Stephen Timms, has tabled two questions about the fraud allegations, after having the claims passed to him by DNS.

He has asked the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith what steps he is taking “to investigate allegations of fraud in the Work Choice contract in west and north London”, and what steps DWP has taken “to prevent fraudulent manipulation of Work Choice and Work Programme job outcomes”.

Government figures published this month showed Seetec as by far the worst-performing of eight Work Choice providers, with only 13 per cent of disabled people referred to it securing any kind of job outcome so far, compared with the best-performing provider, which achieved 32 per cent.


Universal Credit: Citizens Advice Bureau Warns Of “Huge Challenges” Around The Corner

Food bank boss blasts Iain Duncan Smith

The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has warned of “huge challenges” around the corner for the coalition government’s flagship Universal Credit following the release of a DWP pathfinder evaluation.
Universal Credit has been slow to get off the ground and has so far only been tested/evaluated in a handful of areas. Rugby and Inverness became the latest to implement the new system earlier this month.
The new system is replacing a number of state benefits and tax credits through merging them into one single monthly payment, but the changes have come under heavy criticism from opponents who fear that large swathes of those affected may not be ready, or capable, of coping with the reforms and how Universal Credit is designed to work.
The changes, seen as one of the biggest shake-ups of Britain’s welfare system for over a decade, have been swamped by a catalogue of problems and delays, despite the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP, insisting that Universal Credit is both on time and within budget.
Universal Credit has also come under heavy criticism for its cost to taxpayers – nearly six times greater than originally planned, according to Computer Weekly – and this month the Daily Mirror reported that Iain Duncan Smith had allegedly attempted to shift the blame for the problems faced by Universal Credit onto civil servants.
Furthermore, training people how to use and apply for Universal Credit is likely to cost many millions of pounds, as some of those affected may be computer illiterate and/or will not have internet access.
The CAB have warned the government that its far too early to judge whether Universal Credit is working because so far only single people without children have been moved onto the benefit. They say that as many as nine out of ten people are not ready for Universal Credit and will struggle to fill out online application forms. The CAB also draw attention to the fact that 22% of those affected “don’t have basic banking services”.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
Ministers mustn’t draw any conclusions from these very early numbers. Universal credit can potentially have a huge positive impact but the project has been beset with uncertainty and own goals.  Our research shows nine out of ten of our clients are not ready for Universal Credit.
“The only people to have moved onto the new benefit so far are single people with no dependants. A slow introduction is sensible but the small number of pilots does not reflect the huge challenges coming round the corner and Ministers must give us details on how they’ve prepared for that.
“The only issue which matters is how this affects individual people and their families. Half of CAB clients in pilot areas will struggle with online forms and 22% don’t have basic banking services. Despite the urgency of the situation we are still no closer to knowing how people in extremely complicated circumstances will be helped onto the new system. I’m looking forward to hearing in the next few weeks how Ministers will fix the glaring problems which will soon be upon us if they don’t take action.  Ministers must also ensure the new lower level of childcare support for low income families does not undermine the Government’s ambition to make every hour or work pay.”


Universal Credit claimants resorting to payday lenders

More benefit claimants are having to borrow money from family, friends, payday lenders, banks and credit unions to make it through the month under Iain Duncan Smith’s controversial universal credit scheme, a survey has shown.
The first review of pilot projects found 34% of people are resorting to asking for money from other sources under the new system, which rolls all benefit payments into a lump sum – up from 19% under jobseeker’s allowance.
Claimants are now paid monthly rather than weekly, in a system that ministers claim will foster more responsibility and budgeting skills.
However, the number resorting to payday lenders, bank overdrafts, credit unions and advances from the government has risen under the new system, according to the telephone survey of 901 new claimants in Ashton-under-Lyne, Wigan, Oldham and Warrington.
The research showed claimants are spending twice as much time looking for jobs under the new system, carrying out searches for 27 hours per week on average compared with 13 hours under jobseeker’s allowance. Claimants are also applying for more jobs in a week, typically submitting 16 applications, while those in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance apply for 11. And 84% were confident of finding work in the next three months, compared with 76% of jobseeker’s allowance claimants.
However, 13% of people claiming online found the website crashed, 9% were confused by the instructions, 9% had difficulty getting the information required, 10% said it took too long and 27% did not manage to complete their application on the first attempt.
The survey did not ask how many people had actually got new jobs under the stricter universal credit scheme, which is being rolled out slowly amid problems with IT systems and management of the programme.
Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The urgent question the government needs to answer on universal credit is whether more than a handful of people will ever be claiming, and how much more money will be wasted beyond the £140 million already written off due to DWP chaos. This report tells us nothing about that.”
Despite the evidence of more people having to rely on borrowing, the government pointed out that 78% feel confident about managing their monthly spending. However, only a third think being paid monthly is more convenient.
Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said: “Under universal credit, we are beginning to see a cultural shift where people choose to work rather than rely on state support.
“It is great that claimants are getting the help they need from our Jobcentre Plus advisors and that they feel confident about managing changes such as monthly payments.”


Cameron accused of selective human rights principles as he WON'T raise Tibet during China visit

A Free Tibet spokesman said: "He raised human rights in Sri Lanka - he must show Britain’s principles are not dependent on hosts' wealth"

Flashpoint: China was angered by David Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama
Flashpoint: China was angered by David Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama

David Cameron is accused today of turning his back on human rights by refusing to raise Tibet when he travels to China next week.

Downing Street made clear the PM will not mention the Chinese repression of Tibetans during his visit to Beijing and Shanghai amid fears it will damage Britain’s business interests.

A No.10 source said they had “turned a page” on Tibet and it would not form part of the talks with the Chinese leadership.

But the decision has caused anger among human rights groups who questioned why Mr Cameron was willing to stand up to the Sri Lankan premier when he visited Colombo last month but is running scared of the Chinese.

Mr Cameron, who is taking a 100-strong business delegation with him, is hoping to use his four-day visit to drum up trade between Britain and China.

The visit was almost cancelled earlier this year because the PM angered the Chinese by meeting the Dalai Lama last year.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, claims his country has been illegally annexed by the Chinese since the 1950s.

Chinese troops continue to police the country and thousands of Tibetans have died during decades of repression.

Tory MP Tim Loughton, of the all-party parliamentary group on Tibet, said recently that the Chinese government were treating Tibetans as “second-class citizens” and the Tibetan culture was being “extinguished”.

Despite the human rights abuses, Mr Cameron has agreed not to upset his hosts by raising the issue directly.
A Downing Street source said: “This visit is forward-looking. It is about the future and how we want to shift UK-China relations up a gear. We have turned a page on the Dalai Lama issue.”

A spokesman for the Free Tibet campaign accused the PM of ditching Britain’s ethical foreign policy.

“It’s vital that David Cameron speaks frankly and clearly about Tibet while he is in China. He was willing to raise human rights in Sri Lanka and he needs to show that Britain’s principles are not dependent on the wealth of his host,” said a spokesman.

He added: “In Tibet this year, we’ve seen security forces firing on unarmed protesters, Tibetans killed in custody and people arrested and disappeared simply for having images of the Tibetan flag on their phones. China is tightening the screw on Tibet.

“Since Xi Jinping took power, more than 50 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the name of Tibetan freedom – is Mr Cameron simply going to ignore that?

“China thinks that a combination of money and threats can ensure the silence of UK politicians. George Osborne’s excruciating visit seemed to prove them right and was a real humiliation for Britain. Mr Cameron needs to restore our pride.

“China is not a rock: it does change and it will change its policy on Tibet if world leaders have the courage to hold it to account. Mr Cameron stands up for human rights in Sri Lanka and the right of self-determination in the Falklands.

"This is his chance to show China and the world that Britain stands up for justice everywhere.”


Thatcher tax shock: £12m mansion where she saw out her days registered in TAX HAVEN

An expert said: “It's strange that the most British of prime ministers enjoyed the benefits of a property registered in the British Virgin Islands"

This lady's not for taxing: Questions raised over Thatcher fortune
This lady's not for taxing: Questions raised over Thatcher fortune
Flag-waving former PM Margaret Thatcher may have avoided millions in inheritance tax by keeping a chunk of her fortune offshore.

A copy of Tory Baroness Thatcher’s will shows she left a £4.7million estate to be shared among family members.

But the £12million Central London mansion where the Iron Lady spent the last years of her life is owned by an anonymous trust registered in the British Virgin Islands – a ­notorious tax haven.

Through this arrangement she could have avoided up to £5million in inheritance tax – the 40% that would have been due if it was owned by a UK individual.

In the will, made in 1997, Thatcher intended to leave £1million to husband Sir Denis, but he died in 2003 – 10 years before her. Instead, her estate is split between her family, with a third each going to her twins Mark and Carol, and the remaining third shared by her grandchildren when they reach 25.

Expert Richard Murphy, of Tax Research, said: “It has always been strange that Margaret Thatcher, that most British of prime ministers, enjoyed the benefits of a property registered in the British Virgin Islands.

"It is possible that Denis Thatcher set up the trust or other offshore arrangements in order to save tax.”

Ex-Tory leader Thatcher died in April aged 87 following a stroke and had her ­ceremonial funeral funded by the taxpayer.

Papers linked to her will state “the gross value of the estate in the United Kingdom amounts to £4,768,795”. But it does not appear to include the Belgravia mansion, valued at £12.4million by Zoopla.

The house was bought in 1991 by Bakeland Property Limited, an anonymous offshore trust in Jersey, on a 64-year lease. It was sub-leased to a firm of the same name based in the British Virgin Islands.

It is not known who the beneficiaries of Bakeland are. If Thatcher had owned shares in it when she died, inheritance tax would have been due on their value.

Lawyer Andrew Kidd, of Clintons, said: “The shares in the BVI company would be included in Baroness Thatcher’s estate, and subject to UK inheritance tax, in so far as they were in her ownership.”

Thatcher’s financial advisors refused in 2002 to explain why she did not appear to own her own house, and stated: “No one’s going to tell you about that.”


Friday, November 29, 2013

Gravesend man hanged himself after sickness benefits were cut

AN UNEMPLOYED Gravesend man got drunk and hanged himself because his sickness benefits had been cut, an inquest heard.

Victor Cuff, 59, of Medhurst Crescent, was found dead in his bedroom by neighbour and good friend Colleen Gobel on May 22 this year.

The 64-year-old had called the police after noting she had not seen Victor that day.

She told police Mr Cuff, who had had problems with depression in the past, had been "feeling down" and having money troubles after his sickness benefits were reduced.

A post-mortem examination carried out at Darent Valley Hospital on May 29 found the alcohol in Mr Cuff's blood was four times the legal limit for driving and enough to induce coma.

Detective Sergeant James Greenidge, of North Kent Police, was called to the ground-floor flat at 6.11pm.

He told the inquest: "He was lying in bed and it appeared he hanged himself.

"There was evidence he was a drunk."

Coroner Roger Hatch recorded a verdict of suicide.

News Shopper 

No Suitable Home For Brain Injured Gran, 82- Now Hospital Wants To Evict Her

Reblogged from samedifference:

This is so upsetting. Is it even legal for NHS hospitals to do this?

A frail 82-year-old woman has been served with an eviction notice in hospital where she has been since suffering a brain injury nine months ago.

Relatives of Joan Parker have spoken of their outrage after a senior NHS manager last week issued her with a letter telling her she had seven days to leave the hospital.

The drastic measure was taken by hospital bosses after the great-grandmother became embroiled in a merry-go-round with the local council, which has failed to relocate her to a sheltered home.

The widowed pensioner suffered a brain injury in a fall at her home in February and now requires a warden-patrolled flat which can meet her medical needs.

She was declared medically fit by doctors in June but has been trapped in the hospital for months because council officials have failed to find her appropriate accommodation.

The bed-blocking situation is all the more painful for Mrs Parker because she herself worked as a warden at a sheltered housing block for most of her working life.

Last week the chief operating officer of the hospital served her with a letter telling her to leave her bed within seven days.

Eviction: The letter Mrs Parker received from the hospital asking her to leave within seven days

Eviction: The letter Mrs Parker received from the hospital asking her to leave within seven days. She was so enraged that she tore it up

Her son David, 49, said: ‘He could have posted it to us or even called us, but no. Instead, he decided to serve it directly on a frail 82-year-old lady while she was all alone in her hospital room.

‘I think that is as callous as it gets. Mum, to her credit, tore the letter in half there and then and gave it back to him.’

He continued: ‘The options are very limited. My mum wants to remain as independent as she can.

‘She doesn’t want to go into a care home, she wants sheltered housing. We are at a point of crisis – Mum is homeless as of tomorrow.  We are desperate and on every waiting list we can be on.’

Mr Parker added that because he lives in a split-level house, occupational health workers have deemed it unsuitable for his mother.

>Mrs Parker’s ordeal began when she fell at her two-storey home in Milton Keynes, Bucks., in February this year and suffered a brain injury.

Doctors cleared her as medically fit to leave hospital in June but she didn’t leave because council housing officers failed to find her a suitable home to meet her needs.

This led to Darren Leech, chief operating officer at Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, serving the OAP with a letter stating that she must leave by tomorrow.

Mr Parker called the chain of events ‘a living nightmare’ and spoke of the ‘deep irony’ that his mother had worked in a sheltered home for the elderly for most of her life.

‘In the last nine months I have made hundreds of phone calls and sent thousands of emails but we still can’t find poor old mum a home,’ he said.

‘Initially, the hospital should have done more to help but thereafter the council has been an absolute nightmare to deal with.

‘They are trying to drag it out to the bitter end; it’s just pathetic. Poor old mum is having to go through the stress and discomfort of all of this and at 82 years, she deserves better than this.

‘The irony in all of this is that mum spent most of her working life as a warden in sheltered housing caring for the elderly and now she can’t get the help that she so desperately needs.’

The notice, served on November 22, makes it clear that Mrs Parker has until tomorrow to leave the hospital.

Mr Parker said this would leave her homeless after she sold her old house with the intention of using £40,000 pounds from the sale to fund her future nursing care.

Mrs Parker herself said: ‘I did offer to buy sleeping bags and sleep outside the hospital. It is making me cross.’

The typed letter from Mr Leech – featuring an NHS-backed ‘We Care’ logo at the bottom of the page – said: ‘I understand that there is some dispute between you and the council as to your entitlement and the type of accommodation they can offer you.

‘Whilst this is an unfortunate situation, you cannot remain in an acute hospital bed indefinitely as has been discussed with you and your family members on previous occasions.’

The eviction notice on NHS headed paper reads: ‘We are concerned about you remaining in hospital when there is no acute clinical need.  We believe that this will be detrimental to your health and wellbeing generally.

‘You do not need to be in hospital and the hospital cannot afford to provide accommodation to persons who do not need to be in hospital.’

Mrs Parker’s family said Milton Keynes Council had offered her three properties – a flat in Netherfield, a bedsit in Newport Pagnell and sheltered bedsit in Woburn Sands.

Relatives said none was suitable for Mrs Parker – which was a view shared by psychologists and occupational therapists at the hospital.

Mr Parker said: ‘We are not being fussy. All we want is a little flat in a sheltered house scheme where mum can feel safe.’

A spokesman for Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We are planning to discharge Mrs Parker because she is medically fit and no longer needs to be in hospital.’

A spokesman for Milton Keynes Council said: ‘We know that Mrs Parker has been through a difficult time andwe have been working with the family to meet Mrs Parker’s housing need.

We remain absolutely committed to ensuring that Mrs Parker has a new home to go to when she has to leave the hospital, and she will have a further similar selection of sheltered housing to choose from including a formal offer made this week for a flat in Woburn Sands.

‘If Mrs Parker does not wish to live in any of the council sheltered properties from the selection offered, she will have independent financial means from the sale of her own home and we would be happy to assist her to find a suitable alternative in the private sector.’

An Important Request on ILF from Mary Laver

Reblogged from DPAC:

Please write to your MP urgently, asking them to save the Independent Living Fund which exists to help disabled people who need the highest levels of support. You can contact your MP easily through this website:

Below is a message and links to a video from Mary, who is directly affected by welfare cuts. At the end of this email is a template you can use when writing to your MP.

Dear friends,

I’m writing to let you know about an emergency that is happening to disabled people in the UK right now as you read this email.

Some of Britain’s most disabled people – including me – are facing losing our right to living independent lives. The Independent Living Fund is a pot of money that helps disabled people who need the highest levels of support to do more than just exist.

But David Cameron’s government has already closed the ILF to new applicants – and now he wants to stop it for the group of 18,500 people who already receive it.

That will mean people like me will end up sitting alone looking out of the window for most of the day unable to even go to the toilet. Until now, despite being severely disabled by rheumatoid arthritis and unable to walk or use my hands or arms, I’ve been able to live a fulfilling life. In 2012 I was a Gamesmaker, and I carried the Olympic torch. Now, I will be imprisoned at home, and will even have to give up my beloved dogs Jack and Molly.

At 66 years old, severely disabled, and totally human and wheelchair dependent, I have found myself looking at the deep pond at the bottom of my garden, no longer wanting to live. My weight has dropped down from 9 stone to 6 stone.

But I didn’t want to just sit around feeling sorry for myself, so I asked campaigners to make a film about me. The trailer is right here. But you can also watch the whole 15 minute film by going to

You can read my full story by going to

It’s not just the ILF the whole of social care provision is in crisis. Sooner or later this will affect most of you if you become disabled or when you get older.

Disabled people are also under attack from the Bedroom Tax, from the flawed Work Capability Assessment process and ATOS’ reviled tests, from the abolition of Disability Living Allowance,from cuts to council tax benefit and Benefit Caps.

We wonder what we’ve done to deserve it. We aren’t the ones who caused the banking crisis. But it seems as if we are the ones who are paying for it.

We wanted you to know what’s happening to disabled people under ‘Austerity’, because we thought if you did you’d want to campaign with us about it.

If you do, please write to your MP urgently, asking them to save the ILF. You can send them a letter at the House of Commons, or email them via

And please forward this email to everyone you know.

Mary Laver

You could use this as a template:

Dear MP,

The government has already been found guilty of illegally deciding to close the Independent Living Fund and now have to remake their decision. I believe that closing this fund would violate the human rights of disabled people who have the highest support needs to live independently in the community. 

Closure of the ILF would not only force disabled people back into residential care homes but also cause the UK to breach its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I urge you to watch this video, which gives a very real idea of how important this fund is, and to do everything you can to save this vital fund:

Eric Pickles spends £40,000 of taxpayer’s money on biscuits

Reblogged from orderoftruth:


Conservative MP and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, spent £40,000 on biscuits for his department during 2012 – up from £30,000 in 2011 – according to official figures.

Obviously the concept of austerity is lost on Pickles (as it is with the rest of the Parliament cronies) as and his cronies gorge themselves at the expense of people who cannot afford to eat properly and who have to resort to using food banks.

Councils have been forced to cut services all over the country as a result of his policies, and have been forced to save every penny they can – resulting in significant hardship for many vulnerable people in our society.

As further evidence of Pickles’ ignorance, he told London’s LBC Radio station that “The figure was for part of our hospitality budget. When we have meetings, if people come from a long distance we’ll give them tea and biscuits”.

So if the £40,000 was only part of their hospitality budget (just for biscuits) it means that his department must be spending a horrendous amount of cash to pamper themselves and their cronies.

Pickles went on to excuse the expense as an ‘administrative error’, and the actual figure was much lower.
Labour minister Diane Abbot told the Independent newspaper “Nobody begrudges Eric the odd digestive but he needs to cut his biscuit bill.”

We begrudge Pickles a biscuit. In fact, we begrudge Pickles everything – especially the air he breathes – as he constantly fails to show any kind of compassion for the people he and his ilk are supposed to represent – the people who pay Pickle’s salary and allow him to indulge.

He is a pig, his associates in government are pigs, and the way they are destroying the UK for their own greedy motives is a disgrace.

WOW Petition - Nearly there

Reblogged from Diary of a Benefit Scrounger:

On 12th December last year, sick and disabled activists came together online to access democracy. They launched the WOW petition in order that sick and disabled people might be heard.

The DWP refuse to engage with us or the charities that represent many of our conditions.

They treat parliamentary questions with contempt and regularly lie in their answers. This is supposed to be against parliamentary rules. But no-one stops them or reprimands them .

They refuse to come on mainstream media programmes any longer to debate with us and when they are asked, they try to tell the particular show how they must report the issues or refuse to appear. This is supposed to be part of our democratic process, but no-one makes them engage.

They treat opposition day debates like partisan circuses, shaming their office and those who fight so hard to be heard.

They ignore consultations and Lords amendments that tell them their reforms are bound to fail.

They change the law retrospectively seemingly at will when the courts find that they have acted unlawfully. Or simply ignore the court's decisions.

Perhaps if their "reforms" were achieving their stated aims, no-one would care, but Universal credit is in crisis, PIP (reform of disability benefits) has been repeatedly delayed, ESA has all but ground to a halt with backlogs, Atos are under audit and pulling out of the old disability assessments, the bedroom tax gets more horrific by the day.

600,000 people will lose disability support. Up to a million will be told they must work with cancer, kidney failure, Parkinson's and any other condition you can imagine. 660,000 people are affected by the bedroom tax, 700,000 lose everything as sickness benefits are limited to just one year in many cases. Nearly a million people were sanctioned (lost benefits) through the Work Programme this year and tax credits for disabled children have been halved.

Many of those cuts will hit the same people over and over again. 

Today, WOW petition stands at 96,268 signatures with just 14 days to go. Just 3,732 signatures short of the 100,000 required to force our own debate in parliament. The government do not have to accept the will of the people, but they look even more shockingly arrogant if they don't

Please, if you haven't already, sign the petition here

If you think you've already signed, please check. 

If you signed, also check you verified the email sent automatically to your inbox - your signature won't count until yu click on the link they send. 

Democracy is only as good as the structures and conventions that hold it in place. For sick and disabled people, those structures and conventions lie in tatters. 

Help us to be heard. Stand with us. Sign WOW Petition

Mandatory Reconsideration - A Little Hope?

Reblogged from Diary of a Benefit Scrounger:

Apologies, someone emailed this news report and I don't know who to credit it to, but felt the information was worth sharing with you all.

It's not much, but at least a little "softening" from Esther McVey

Straightforward ESA mandatory reconsiderations expected to take ‘around 14 days’, says Esther McVey

Employment Minister also confirms that claim for JSA during reconsideration period will have no bearing on outcome

26 November, 2013

The DWP would expect a straightforward employment and support (ESA) mandatory reconsideration to take 'around 14 days', according to Employment Minister Esther McVey.

Responding to questions on mandatory reconsideration of ESA decisions in parliament yesterday, Ms McVey said -

'If no further information is needed and the case is straightforward, the mandatory reconsideration process for employment and support allowance could be completed relatively quickly. We would usually expect this to take around 14 days, but it could take longer. For example, if further information is needed, the law states that DWP have to give people one month to provide it and this may be extended further at the decision maker's discretion, so cases like this may take longer.'

In addition, in response to a question on whether a claim for jobseeker's allowance (JSA) during the mandatory reconsideration period would prejudice or influence its outcome, Ms McVey said -

'The DWP decision maker’s decision at the mandatory reconsideration stage for employment and support allowance is intended to be an independent step in the process, therefore, whether the claimant has claimed jobseeker's allowance or not in the intervening period, this will have no bearing on the mandatory reconsideration decision. Work Capability Assessment decisions are binding—a jobseeker's allowance decision maker cannot decide that a claimant is too ill to work if this contradicts the ESA decision maker's decision. However, the claimant must agree to the jobseeker's agreement/claimant commitment to be eligible.'

Ms McVey's written answers are available from Hansard.