Thursday, February 27, 2014

Disabled people challenge damage of current welfare reform policies

The House of Commons will today (27 February 2014) debate the impact of current UK welfare reform on sick and disabled people and carers.

The debate will follow a lobby of MPs in the Jubilee Room at the Westminster Parliament, attended by supporters including the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, charities and NGOs.

The initiative in securing the debate has come from disabled and sick people themselves through the WOW Petition Campaign – backed by Ekklesia and many others – which is highlighting the damaging impact of the £28.3 billion worth of support they will lose by 2018 as a result of changes and reductions brought in by the coalition government.

Thousands of disabled people are being hit simultaneously by up to six different welfare cuts. Up to 3.7 million sick and disabled people are affected overall, campaigners point out.

Yet the government has not attempted an overall assessment of the damaging impact this is having on their lives and has closed its ears to alternative perspectives and policies.

The petition that triggered the debate was signed online by over 104,000 people through the government's e-petition website.

"Sick and disabled people are turning to foodbanks to survive, falling into poverty and debt," says comedian, actress and activist Francesca Martinez, who lives with cerebral palsy, and who helped launch WOW.

Ms Martinez declared ahead of the Commons debate: ‘The success of the WOW Petition has shown that there is huge public support for political change to the current welfare reforms. The government's policies have had a disastrous impact on disabled people, sick people and carers, subjecting many to poverty, distress, humiliation and even death. This is unacceptable and has to be fought by all citizens.

"We will never forget those who have needlessly died from these devastating cuts and will make sure that those without voices will be heard. A society which looks after those who need it is a civilised one and I, for one, am proud to pay taxes which help provide this vital support network.

"Disabled people have an equal right to happiness, dignity, and opportunity, and we will continue to demand these basic human rights for all, regardless of ability, health or income," she declared.

The debate will be led in the House of Commons by Labour MPs John McDonnell and Grahame M Morris, with support from people of many parties and allegiances.

It will take place under a single line whip, which means that MP’s can choose to either attend or vote. Campaigners have been working hard to encourage attendance and positive participation, and that is also the focus of the pre-debate lobby.

The Centre for Wefare Reform and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia are among those arguing that welfare reform should be about how to build a welfare society and restructure public provision to make it stronger, rather than cuts, threats and the scapegoating of the most vulnerable.

The WOWpetition debate itself can be watched live on Freesat Channel 201, Virgin Channel 605, Sky Channel 504, on your computer at or the BBC Parliament Channel.

* A full briefing on the lobby and debate is available here:

* WOW (War on Welfare) Petition Campaign:

* More from Ekklesia on the WOW initiative:


How outsourcing works - for Atos

Reblogged from Watching A4e:

There was a lot of fuss about the fact that Atos is getting out of its £500m WCA contract early, citing all the abuse it has been getting.  Will they incur a financial penalty for this?  Well, if they do they can recoup the loss from their latest contract - "to extract patient records from GP surgeries as part of the controversial NHS data sharing scheme", in the words of the Telegraph yesterday.  Some boggling went on at that revelation.  Dr Sarah Wollaston (a Tory MP but sensible) asked whether the DWP would be allowed access to the database.  The answer appears to be no, but don't bank on it.  A big question in my mind is how they can maintain confidentiality when the project involves, I assume, the work of an army of people looking at both paper and digital records.

So Atos can't lose.  They still have the PIP contract, carving up the country with Capita.  That isn't going too well.  The last we heard was that most of the potential subcontractors listed on its bid pulled out, and Atos didn't have the scope to provide enough facilities.  But with another contract in the bag, shareholders need not worry.  That's the beauty of outsourcing.  Once your company is big enough there is no competition, and bodging one contract after another doesn't matter.

Government, not disability, makes us vulnerable. That's why we fight the cuts

Carers for disabled people protest against the bedroom tax outside the high court
Carers for disabled people protest against the bedroom tax outside the high court. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The WOW petition read: "We call for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and a new deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions." Some 100,000 signatures later, the government has been forced to listen. This morning, the House of Commons will have a full debate on what the "reforms" have done to the thousands who couldn't stop them.

The disabled, as a group, lumped together and picked out, is being forced to watch as £28bn is hacked from their benefits. Disabled people in poverty make up 4% of the population, but have taken 13% of this government's cuts.

Carers are facing eviction from their homes because they can't pay the rent. People too ill to work are going to payday loan companies to be able to buy food. Severely disabled people are being told social care cuts mean they can't have help to get to the toilet at night and they should lie in incontinence pads instead. This is happening in this country right now. The seventh richest in the world. No one is stopping it. It has been left to the people without power to make someone listen.

It's significant that it was via an online petition that people who are disabled or long-term ill made themselves heard; faceless behind screens, voiceless but for the keys, finding some freedom within four walls. Signing, sharing, tweeting, talking: these are the only options for people who are not given options, who did not start in a position of opportunity and dignity but have watched over the months as the scraps they had have been taken away.

It's often said the cuts are an attack on the "most vulnerable", but it's a term that suggests an inevitability to all this. Fear is not a guaranteed result of disability; desperation does not have to come with long-term sickness, just another natural symptom amongst pain and fatigue. Governments make people vulnerable: they provide the support that the disadvantaged parts of society need, or they don't. When you cannot work, you eat when those with their fingers on the purse-strings give you money, and if they don't, you go hungry. When you cannot wash yourself, you get to the bathroom when those who make the decisions send and pay for someone to help you, and if they don't, you stay in bed dirty. That is the definition of vulnerability. Ignoring it, leaving human beings to suffer alone, is, while we're at it, the definition of cruelty.


Jobcentre whistleblower warns of helplines chaos for job seekers

A whistleblowing Jobcentre manager has told former Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain that the removal of helpline phones for the use of claimants will cause serious difficulties for the most vulnerable people in Britain.

The manager contacted Mr Hain after he expressed concern in the Western Mail and then the House of Commons about the planned removal of phones from the Jobcentre serving his Neath constituents. It emerged that the move was part of a nationwide strategy approved by current Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

In an email to Mr Hain the Jobcentre manager, who has asked not to be identified, stated: “I have grave concerns about the upcoming ‘digitilisation’ of [my Jobcentre].

“In essence, this means the removal of all the free phones for customers to contact the benefit centres when they have problems with their money.

“We currently have [a number of] phones which are used constantly throughout the day. The calls could be about [a range of benefits for the unemployed, the disabled and the low paid]. All of these numbers are [premium rate] 0845 numbers, and customers would prefer to spend time and money to come down to the Jobcentre, as the cost of 0845 numbers can be very expensive. And remember, the reason for these calls is ‘I haven’t received my money’.”

The manager says the line being used by the Department for Work and Pensions to placate claimants and politicians is that staff will be available locally to help people access benefit centres by computer, and if necessary to phone the relevant centre. However, says the manager, there has been no staffing increase to cope with this.

“On many days there is only one or two staff available to deal with benefit enquiries for vulnerable customers,” says the manager. “This will not increase, and therefore we will have two staff expected to deal with 200 to 300 enquiries per day. Each one takes at the least five minutes, so you can see it just doesn’t add up. The assumption is that people will phone from home, but what seems to be being ignored is that they can’t afford to. I feel this is going to lead to problems… and put vulnerable customers in a very difficult position.”

Mr Hain said: “This insider blows the gaff on claims that this whole procedure is about modernisation. It shows that cost-cutting has got to such a manic level that people will simply be prevented from accessing the kind of advice and assistance they need to get and are entitled to.

“The benefits system is a nightmarish one of complexity and ambiguity. If you deprive claimants of person-to-person contact and force everyone to go online, it’s a recipe for disaster. There are fewer and fewer staff to deal even with those claimants able to go online, while there are many especially older clients who are not.”

“This proves what I have felt for a long time – that it’s all about cuts and absolutely nothing to do with creating a better or fairer system. The consequence will be increased misery, with people finding it more difficult to get their benefits restored when they have been cut off as a result of some error. These changes are dictated by adherence to a tick-box culture, and take no account of the human element.”

A DWP spokesman said: “We have adequate staff to deal with the level of enquiries we receive at our Jobcentres and, as part of our changes, we’re making sure claimants have more information up front, which reduces their need to get in touch with us for more general information during their claim.

“The DWP does not earn any revenue from 0845 numbers, and we have already made a commitment to introduce 03 numbers, which may be less expensive under certain phone contracts. We work hard to identify vulnerable people using Jobcentre facilities, so they can be offered the most appropriate form of help and, if required, we can look to resolve their enquiry through a face-to-face appointment at one of our offices.”

Wales Online

Atos Gets 150,000 Complaints from GPs and Blames the DWP

Originally posted on Beastrabban\'s Weblog:

This is another piece on Atos that I’ve found on Youtube. It’s a report from Sky News, put up on the 18th October 2013, revealing that doctors have officially complained about the extra workload they are being placed under by people, who have been declared fit for work by Atos. They also reveal that the Citizens Advice Bureau had received 150,000 complaints about Atos. The report also covers the case of Mr Cowper, a man dying of cancer, who was nevertheless found fit for work by Atos. Mr Cowper is only one of tens of thousands. The precise number is unknown because the government repeatedly refuses to release the figures, claiming that such requests are ‘vexatious’. See the relevant posts over at Vox Political on Mike’s attempts to get the figures out of them.
  Atos, however, are complaining that they have been victimised. Their vice-president, Wayne Gibson, turns up on the programme to state that they were working for the government for fifteen years with no protests. They feel that they have been scapegoated for the government’s policies.

Now I was first thrown off benefits when Blair/ Brown were in power. If I remember correctly, there were strong articles about Atos in Private Eye even then. Furthermore, the company cannot pass the blame wholly onto the Government. They chose to bid for the contract and administer the tests. No-one forced them. If they had an moral objections to the work, they could simply have withdrawn their services. Or, if their health care professionals are as highly trained and skilled as they said, they could have sought to change the test itself. They did not. Now I think the company is right in that the DWP must also share the blame, but this does not, by any means, excuse them.

DWP Insider: Repeat ESA Medicals Deferred For Two Years

Originally posted on Same Difference:

Two. Years. Two years. TWO WHOLE YEARS. Two. Whole. Stress free years for the most severely disabled people in Britain. Two. Whole. Stress free years for the carers of the most severely disabled people in Britain.

  The news of the deferring was big enough in itself. When I finished celebrating that news, I did wonder what the exact time frame was. As brilliant as ‘while we clear the backlog’ sounds at first, it does leave people wondering, and hanging. In matters of money, that wondering causes confusion, and fear, and stress.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tory MP who criticised benefits claimants is himself being investigated for benefit fraud

Reblogged from Pride's Purge:

(not satire – it’s Peter Bone!)

Right-wing Tory MP Peter Bone once said this of benefits claimants:

It cannot be right that people who are funded entirely by the taxpayer are making life unbearable for decent hardworking families.

Quite right Peter.

So I expect you’ll be resigning now it’s turned out you’re being investigated for benefit fraud:

Revealed! Comrade Cameron’s secret Stalinist revolutionary plot to take-over Britain!

Originally posted on Pride's Purge:

Our country is facing a secret Stalinist takeover led by Cameron and his traitorous Eton, Oxbridge party apparatchiks.

Comrade Cameron isn’t even hiding his revolutionary ambitions any longer.

He has just announced the Tory Party is to be transformed into the Workers Party.

This recent move is yet more evidence that Cameron’s particularly aggressive form of British Conservatism is actually a cover for a secret Stalinist plot to establish a totalitarian revolutionary Soviet state in the UK:
  • Just like Stalin, Cameron’s forcing armies of unemployed workers into forced labour, with pitiful ‘wages’ paid for by the state, to carry out menial tasks such as stacking shelves in massive supermarkets.
  • Just like Stalin, Cameron has been using massive state-wide celebrations such as the Queen’s jubilee and the Olympics to divert attention from the dire state of the economy.
  • Just like Stalin, Cameron wants all power to be concentrated in the hands of a select few, for whom all manner of luxuries are allowed while the rest of the citizens face virtual starvation as a result of his policies.
  • Just like Stalin, one of Cameron’s main instruments of totalitarian rule is widespread propaganda in the print and the media, praising his party’s actions and blaming economic difficulties on ‘radical activists‘.
  • Just like Stalin, Cameron’s government regularly tries to rewrite history by ‘redacting’ unhelpful facts from history.
  • Just like Stalin, Cameron announced a 5-year plan to turn around the economy - exactly like the 5-year economic plans so beloved of the Soviet state planners. Not only that – but the announcement was made in a tractor factory
  • Just like those other respectable looking Stalinist sympathisers and undercover spies Guy BurgessDonald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, Cameron was also educated at Eton and Oxbridge.
We have to stop these dictatorial monsters before it’s too late – before we all end up in a British version of a Gulag somewhere or spending our days filling shelves for slave wages in massive grey monstrosities of buildings while our masters live a life of luxury on the backs of our labour.

It’s time to stand up for everything we believe in. At stake is everything we hold dear, our whole way of life in the UK is under threat from a menacing blue and orange tide of Stalinist dictatorial infiltrator traitors.
It’s not the reds under our beds but the blues in our schools and the cleggs under our hospital beds we have to worry about.

Wake up Britain before it’s too late! 

Will Peter and Sue get added to this year’s malnutrition statistics?

Originally posted on londonfoodbank:

Is the government rushing to close down the few remaining sources of help for people like Peter and Sue (not their real names), a couple who came into the London food bank last week? Both of them have serious health issues and their sickness benefits have been delayed.

Yesterday, the story broke that the £347m hardship fund, a potential safety net for the couple, is being scrapped. The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for ministers to review the decision. The LGA says its abolition could leave councils unable to support families who face a crisis. The loss of the Local Welfare Assistance Fund would leave councils having to find money for this from their overall budgets. The government is reported as saying that councils will continue to give support to those in financial difficulties, but the LGA has highlighted that overall funding for local government has been cut by more than 40 per cent over the course of this parliament. Doing away with this fund could leave some areas unable to afford to help out people in crisis.

This development is not going to make life any easier for Peter and Sue, who usually get employment and support allowance (ESA), but had no way of feeding themselves last week. Peter, who is bipolar, had sent the sick note that he hopes would have triggered a renewal of ESA to an office in Ireland, but believes it’s been lost in the post. Before he can start receiving ESA again, he has to repeat the process of getting his key mental health worker to arrange an appointment with his psychiatrist. It’s easy to see that this is all going to take a while to sort. Sue, who is epileptic, had been friends with Peter for many years before they became a couple. They got together after she broke up with her ex-husband, who had been violent towards her. She doesn’t seem to know why her ESA has been delayed.

Both of them have older children from their previous relationships, and now Sue, 36, thinks she may be pregnant. The couple, who are clearly devoted to each other, are living together. Sue receives housing benefit and disability living allowance (DLA) in addition to ESA. With both sets of ESA now on hold, they are trying and failing to survive on Sue’s DLA of £41 a week. That sum has to cover rent, gas, electricity, council tax and food for two. Except of course, it isn’t covering food, which is why they’re here at the food bank.

Gilbert and Sullivan on Corporate Changes of Identity

Originally posted on Beastrabban\'s Weblog:

Out with the old...: You can rest assured that the only change at Atos has been the company brand name.
Mike over at Vox Political has posted up a piece on Atos’ rebranding itself OH Assist. While Atos certainly are not bankrupt by any means, it does remind me of the way the managers of failing companies have tried to escape their creditors by going into liquidation, and then starting another company. Every so often, one of these companies, sometimes using a name little different from their predecessors, turns up on Watchdog or one of the other consumer interest programmes. This is, of course, perfectly legal, and so old that it was satirised by Gilbert and Sullivan in the libretto of a Company Promoter, written in 1893:

If you come to grief, and creditors are craving …
Do you suppose that signifies perdition?
If so you’re but a monetary dunce -
You merely file a Winding-Up Petition,
And start another company at once!

… the Liquidators say,
Never mind – you needn’t pay’,
So you start another company tomorrow.

Shocking Child Poverty Facts You Need To Know

Iain Duncan Smith is speeding ahead with plans to redefine how child poverty is measured in Britain in response to a wave of criticism of his welfare reforms, which drew accusations from critics that he trying to "shift the goalposts".

A child is currently deemed to be living in poverty if part of a family that has less than 60% of median household income, but under new plans first mooted in 2012, the work and pensions secretary will take into account other factors like whether members of the family are in work or how many of them are drug addicts or alcoholics.

Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: “Changing the definition of poverty won’t do anything to help the children whose lives are being damaged by the rise in poverty we are seeing under this Government.”

Here are the seven sobering facts you need to know about the state of child poverty in Britain:

Atos Is Only Part Of The Problem: The Whole System Is Flawed - by Helen Sims

Personally, I don’t know why some people are getting excited that ATOS have given up. ATOS is only part of the problem. The whole POLICY needs to stop! The SYSTEM is flawed. Until that happens, I can’t celebrate anything.

It’s funny how, yesterday ATOS itself said the SYSTEM was failing, and yet in all the media coverage I have seen today, they have blamed a hate campaign against staff.

There is NO EVIDENCE to back that up! If there is, then show us!

Also, where were the BBC during the protests this week, when the TRUTH was being told, about the pain, death and suffering this government, and ATOS are responsible for.

Where was OUR media coverage, when the damage ATOS (and the DWP) have done, was being talked about? NOWHERE!

Yet today, the BBC and ATOS are blaming a ‘hate campaign’ and US, YET AGAIN!

In none of the coverage I have seen today, have they even tried to explain WHY disabled and ill people are angry, and the DAMAGE that is being done to our lives!

The BBC claim to be balanced and independent. I don’t think so! To me, they are spouting government propaganda (AGAIN)!

When this whole Welfare Reform policy is scrapped and replaced by something compassionate, fair, and that allows for variations in disability and people, is when I’ll be celebrating!

Helen Sims

Welfare News Service

IDS's ‘Fit For Work’ Figures Branded ‘Misleading’

Press release from Sheila Gilmore MP, Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East, reads:

Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore MP today welcomed a letter from the UK Statistics Authority [pdf] that described figures published by Iain Duncan Smith’s Department as ‘potentially misleading’ and questioned their status as ‘National Statistics’.

The figures relate to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit which provides support for people who cannot work due to a health condition or disability. Since it replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008, data from the Department for Work and Pensions has shown that, of all claimants declared as ‘Fit for Work’, one in ten are subsequently awarded ESA after a formal appeal.

However research by campaigners suggested that the number of Fit for Work decisions and successful appeals have been artificially suppressed. This is because figures that supposedly showed the number of people awarded benefit immediately after assessment and before ANY appeals actually already took into account the results of informal appeals against refusals.

Sheila Gilmore raised practice with the UK Statistics Authority in a letter dated 20 December [pdf], and this was subsequently acknowledged in a response from the Chair, Sir Andrew Dilnot, on Friday 21 February.
Sheila Gilmore said:

“I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared fit to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.

“Until recently we thought that the assessment was getting about one in ten fit for work decisions wrong – far too many in most people’s eyes – but now we know the Government have been fiddling the figures, the reality could be much much worse.

“Ministers had led us to believe they were publishing figures that showed the number of people awarded benefit immediately after assessment and before ANY appeals. It now turns out that informal appeals to officials – as opposed to formal ones to judges – were being included in the figures.

“Now that the UK Statistics Authority have described these figures as ‘potentially misleading’ and questioned their status as ‘National Statistics’, Iain Duncan Smith should now get on with fixing the test to reduce the number of incorrect decisions, rather than fixing the figures to downplay the problem.

“I want to pay special tribute to the campaigners who brought this issue to my attention. Nick Dilworth from the ilegal network deserves particular credit.”


Number of people sleeping rough in UK leaps by more than a third since 2010

 Figures from the Department for Communities show the number on the streets rose to 2,414 last year, despite a Tory pledge to end homlessness

Worry: A large proportion of rough sleepers are from Central and Eastern Europe (file picture)
The number of people sleeping rough has leapt by more than a third since 2010 - despite a pledge by the Tories to end homelessness.

Figures from the Department for Communities show the number on the streets rose to 2,414 last year, a rise of 37% since the general election.

Critics said the sharp increase was a “clear warning sign” of the impact of the Government’s benefit cuts.


Royal cottage owned by the Queen is a 'unfit for animals' and costs taxpayer £484 a month rent

With chunks of plaster hanging from the ceiling, rotting floorboards and mould growing on the walls, it looks more like the inner-city property of a slum landlord

Dodgy: Mr Warr on the staircase
It may have royal connections, but Stephen Warr’s rented home is certainly no palace.

He describes the damp, dilapidated cottage owned by the Crown Estate as “unfit for animals”.

With chunks of plaster hanging from the ceiling, rotting floorboards and mould growing on the walls, it looks more like the inner-city property of a slum landlord.

Yet the taxpayer is forking out £484 a month in housing benefit for the former farm worker to live there.
The cottage is owned by the vast £8.6 billion Crown Estate , which will earn the Queen around £39 million this year.

The Mirror has revealed that the estate received £38,539 in housing benefit from West Somerset Council alone last year.

The true figure will be far higher as the sprawling estate owns properties across a string of councils and the figure from West Somerset does not include benefit cash that goes direct to tenants.


Building more low-cost housing is answer to housing benefit conundrum - : Building more low-cost housing is answer to housing benefit conundrum

The Labour Member of Parliament for Edinburgh East says we need to change the balance of money spent on building against subsidising rent

Answer: Low-cost housing

In 1980 £16 of every £20 the Government spent on helping those on low incomes secure housing went on building homes, while only £4 went on subsidising rents.

Last year only £1 of every £20 went on new homes and £19 on housing benefit. We need to move the balance back.

Long-term homes at affordable rents are badly needed. The shortage leads to people on low incomes having no choice but to move into the private sector which they can only afford, whether working or not, with housing benefit.

Many former council properties are being snapped up by landlords and the Mirror has done an important job in showing how many are getting very large sums from benefits.

We need substantial and sustained investment in building and acquiring low rent housing and not the 80% of market rent model the current government is proposing as “affordable” housing.

There also needs to be a reduction in the use of private lets to meet the needs of low income households as new homes come on stream.

The move to housing benefit has lined the pockets of landlords .

Time for change.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Work Test Whistleblower on Atos and ESA Tests

Reblogged from Work Test Whistleblower:

The dogged investigators at Benefits and Work have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a key DWP internal memo from January. In it, the DWP instructed its staff to stop asking Atos for WCAs in certain circumstances. It was an official communication, so naturally it was unclear.

Here's what I think it DIDN'T say:
  • No one will ever have a WCA again
  • The IB reassessment programme has stalled
  • It's because Atos are pulling out.
What I think it DID say is:
  • When a claimant has: a) had a WCA; b) been accepted for ESA; and c) been recommended for another WCA in the future to review their condition, then Atos should henceforth no longer be asked to carry out that further WCA to review the claimant, unless the claimant has reported a change
  • The reason for the suspension is that a large backlog of WCAs has built up
  • Normal service is expected to resume when new providers come on stream at a later date in addition to Atos.
The memo was written in January and the author was presumably unaware that Atos were hoping to pull out of the WCA programme ASAP!

So I think statements about this being the end of the WCA are wide of the mark. What it does show is that Atos cannot process WCA requests quickly enough - no doubt because of the longer time it now takes to carry each one out, and because the number of assessors still willing to do them has dwindled since last summer.

Sanctions: The truth is, it’s up to all of us!

Reblogged from Boycott Workfare:

No Benefit Sanctions No Workfare

Last week figures on how many people faced sanctions (benefit stoppages) were published. There were no surprises, only the disturbing reality that more people are facing the hardship, hunger and stress of sanctions than ever before.

What about the union of the job centre workers who are pushing poor people into these devastating situations? Last year its members voted for PCS union to look into means of non-cooperation with sanctions, but its leadership is point blank refusing to even consider this an option. This is despite the fact that over 4000 workfare placements have taken place in the DWP, undermining jobs and wages for PCS members.

Elsewhere, the TUC mustered a cynical statement condemning sanctions – cynical given they also support the use of sanctions (PDF – 3.6, pg 31) and have explicitly called for Labour’s ‘workfare-lite’, the so-called ‘job guarantee’, to be backed with this threat of destitution. Also taking the cynical “sanctions bad, but also necessary” line were charity Gingerbread, which seemed determined to have its cake and eat it, in a press statement which managed to both condemn and advocate sanctions.

Workfare and sanctions will continue to lead to ever increasing poverty, whether you’re in work or out of work. People are going hungry as a result of these policies. Which is perhaps why the government appear to have buried a report on the reason behind the rise of foodbank usage. A leaked document has revealed that the government have even floated the idea of charging people money to appeal to have their sanctions overturned.

Labour’s muted response is in this context is hardly surprising, given it recently stated that it wants to be even tougher on those claiming benefits than the current government.

Perhaps seeing an ever increasing moral vacuum opening up at the heart of UK politics, the leader of the Catholic church in England attacked the government for the increase in poverty due to welfare cuts and sanctions. Unfortunately his colleagues elsewhere have not followed suit: leading Christian charities such as the Salvation Army and YMCA are profiting from using workfare on a large scale. As such they are directly involved in sanctioning people and increasing poverty.

What does it all mean? This: If we want an end to workfare and sanctions, and if we want to preserve the welfare state then it really is quite literally up to every single one of us to do what we can – to make a real difference. Whatever we do, it all adds up! Just last week, Atos, the multinational responsible for throwing thousands of people off sickness benefits announced it wants to exit its contract – a massive victory for groups like Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle who have challenged its terrible practices.

The successful Welfare Action Gathering last week saw new links made between like-minded groups and individuals from across the country. Everyone who came is determined to do what they can – so can you. Join us in saying no to sanctions. Boycott workfare. Boycott exploitation.

Atos ‘death threats’ claim: outrageous insult to those its regime has killed

Originally posted on Vox Political:

“If this isn’t intimidation, I don’t know what is – it’s a very clear message to anyone: How dare you protest against us and, if you do, we’ll find you fit for work!” Anti-Atos protester Joanne Jemmett with the sign left by Atos workers outside the assessment centre in Weston-Super-Mare on Wednesday (“Fit enough to protest – fit enough to work!”) at the start of this short film documenting the demonstration there.

Watching the stories stack up in the wake of the national day of protest against Atos last Wednesday has been very interesting.

The immediate response was that Atos has approached the government, seeking an early end to its contract. This deal, under which Atos administers the hated Work Capability Assessments to people on incapacity or disability benefits, would have been worth more than £1 billion to the company over a 10-year period.

The Anti-Atos Demonstrations by Those Who Were There

Originally posted on Beastrabban\'s Weblog:

I’ve posted a few descriptions and pieces on the anti-Atos demonstrations held up and down the country last Wednesday. Several of the commenters on Mike’s blog have posted further descriptions of the protests, and the reactions of the police and Atos employees, in their areas, on his piece ‘Atos ‘Death Threat’ Claims – ‘Outrageous’ Insult to those the Regime has Killed’.

  Farmer’s boy said that

Croydon stayed open and continued to do assessments all day – with a riot van outside to police half a dozen people, some poetry and a guitar.

Allan J said of Atos in Gloucester

Harsh benefit sanctions 'undermine vital safety net'

A leading trade unionist has agreed with church leaders that harsh benefit sanctions undermine a vital safety net for vulnerable people.

Responding to government figures that reveal Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants have had their benefits suspended more than 800,000 times because they were deemed to have failed to do enough to find work or turned down job offers, Trades Union Congress (TUC) General Secretary Frances O’Grady called for change to the system and the way it works.

“Church leaders are only the latest to say that the harsh benefits sanctions regime is causing hardship and destitution," she declared.

"The number of sanctions has grown sharply amid allegations of pressure on job centre staff to penalise more claimants.

“Of course the unemployed should seek work, but when people are being sanctioned for going to family funerals rather than seeking work and those without IT skills are being penalised for not applying online we are not catching cheats but undermining a vital safety net that any of us might need one day.”

The TUC is organising 'Fair Pay Fortnight' from Monday 24 March to Sunday 6 April. It will be a series of events across England and Wales to raise awareness about falling living standards.

* More information here:


Peacocks exposed: Apply for a job – get workfare!

Reblogged from Boycott Workfare:

Picture of peacocks store
Rejected for a job at Peacocks but working for free at the store.

Another high street chain has now been exposed as using workfare: Peacocks have taken on workfare placements instead of hiring staff. 

London Boycott Workfare is taking action at 1pm, on Sat 1st March at the Peacocks store on Seven Sisters Road, Holloway. We invite other groups to pay a visit to your local store and put the pressure on for Peacocks to pay its staff!

This person’s story shows how this practice means job applications are ignored when free labour is on offer instead. Another report has come in that the Sutton store has 10 workfare placements at one time. Please find out what’s going on at your local store too and let us know!
Can’t make it to a store on Saturday 1 March?
Let Peacocks know what you think on their social media channels:
Facebook | Twitter: @peacocks

Read more... 

'Heartless and callous' Tories block £3m European Union fund to feed the hungry and poor


Britain is the only European government to oppose 'European Aid to the Most Deprived', with MEPs set to vote against it at the European Parliament in Strasbourg

Shelved: Food bank fund

The Tories will tomorrow oppose the founding of a fund which could pump millions of pounds into food banks for the needy.

Britain could have been in line for a £3million share of the European Union pot, worth £3billion across all 27 member states.

However, the Coalition is the only European government to oppose the fund – called European Aid to the Most Deprived – and Conservative MEPs will vote against it today at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Labour MEP Richard Howitt said the move was “heartless and callous”.

A Tory spokesman tried to explain the move: “It is not for EU to dictate to member states how to run their welfare systems or how to help the needy.


Sanctions: IDS behaving unlawfully on a large scale: Almost 9 out of 10 of sanction appeals against DWP are upheld by independent tribunals

This article draws unashamedly on David Webster’s excellent briefing following the release in February 2014 of sanction statistics for JSA and ESA claimants by DWP. David Webster, who is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Glasgow University, also presented very strong and documented evidence to inform the enquiry of the Work and Pension Committee into sanctions in March and November 2013.

The briefing on which this article is based can be found here: 

It explains in great detail the trends in sanctions, in reasons for sanctions, in appeals etc. since 1997 which, for David Webster, is evidence that Iain Duncan Smith is behaving unlawfully on a large scale.

Number of sanctions: The latest figures released by DWP through its new software (Stat-Xplore) show that the number of sanctions for JSA and ESA claimants has reached unprecedented levels.  Between 22/10/2012 and 30/09/2013 (49 weeks) 527,574 JSA claimants received a sanction. The figure for ESA claimants over a complete year is 22,840, also a record number. Although the rate of sanctions for ESA claimants is much lower, it is rising and stands almost at 0.,5% per month (compared to 6% for JSA claimants in the 3 months to 30/09/2013). 

Length of sanctions: What has also changed is the length of sanctions. Although ministers claimed that hardly anyone would be subject to the new 3-year sanctions, the number of JSA claimants who had received a 3-year sanction rose to 962 by 30 September 2013, up from 700 by 30 June 2013.  Claimants’ ‘failures’ such as not attending or being late for advisory interviews,  non-availability for employment, which used to attract  1 or 2 week sanction, are now penalised with a 4 week sanction 

Reasons for sanctions: The main reasons for JSA sanctions are failure to participate in training/employment schemes and not ‘actively seeking work’ while the majority of ESA claimants are being sanctioned for not participating in work-related activity (75%), and the remainder for missing or being late for an interview.

Work Programme: The Work Programme continues to fail JSA claimants, as contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have produced job outcomes:  394,759 sanctions and 198,750 job outcomes. There is also evidence of maladministration of referral forms which has lead to a huge increase of cancelled referrals. What it means is Work Programme contractors are making mistakes in their paperwork on a big scale.

Appeals and reconsiderations:  The success rate of appeals taken to an independent tribunal is quoted as being 58%, even by the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. This figure represents an average over 12 months, which fails to reflect the strong and clear upward trend of successful appeals. Tribunals are now upholding almost 9 out of 10 of appeals against DWP
This confirms the evidence that sanctions are applied unreasonably.
Unfortunately, only about one in 50 sanctioned claimants appeals to a Tribunal – 2.44% in the latest 3 months. The vast majority of claimants find the process too difficult.

To conclude, a note added by David Webster to his briefing regarding the role of sanctions in creating destitution:

‘There is clearly a lot of confusion about the role of sanctions in creating destitution. The current regime under which sanctioned claimants lose all their benefits and, unless in an arbitrarily defined ‘vulnerable’ group, are not allowed even to apply for discretionary ‘hardship payments’ for the first two weeks, has been in force since October 1996. What has changed dramatically in recent years is the number and length of sanctions. Prior to the Jobseekers Act 1995, sanctioned claimants were entitled to a reduced rate of Income Support or Supplementary Benefit as of right from the start, assessed on the normal rules’.

Demonstration: Grayling Day Save Legal Aid 7th March

All repeat WCA medicals to be stopped

In an urgent memo obtained by Benefits and Work, the DWP have told staff that due to a growing backlog at Atos all current employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants will be left on the benefit, without further medical checks, until another company can be found to do repeat work capability assessments (WCAs). The memo, dated 20 January, goes on to say that this will reduce the number of claimants moving off ESA, but that there are no plans to inform claimants or MPs about the change.

Benefits and Work obtained the memo from the DWP via a Freedom of Information request. It is headed: ‘FOR URGENT CASCADE. Control of the Referral of Repeat work Capability Assessments’.

The memo explains that back in July a ministerial statement announced that:

“in the drive to continually improve the Work Capability Assessment process and bring down waiting times for claimants, DWP had decided to seek additional capacity to deliver Work Capability Assessments.

“We are working towards having new provision in place – it will of course take some time for that to become fully operational.”

However, the memo goes on to explain that:

“The number of cases currently with Atos Healthcare has grown. A decision has therefore been taken to control the referral of repeat work capability assessments. Therefore, with effect from 20 January 2014, further routine repeat assessments referrals to Atos will be deferred until further notice.

“Controlling the volume of repeat Work Capability Assessments should help us to reduce delays for new claimants and those that have already been referred.”

The memo goes on to say that staff must still refer claimants for reassessment where there has been a reported change in condition, giving the example of a claimant placed in the Work Related Activity Group whose condition worsens and who might be expected to move into the Support Group.

Aside from this, however, reassessment of existing claimants is to end until further notice, with no new cases being referred to Atos from 20th January.

The memo is keen to point out that the decision to stop repeat assessments by Atos is not ‘linked to the quality issues outlined in July 2013’ which the DWP ‘has been working closely with Atos to resolve’. It also reassures readers that the change will have no impact on Atos’ ability to carry out personal independence payment assessments.

It does, however, admit that the result of the change is that the number of people coming off ESA each month will reduce because:

“the Work Capability Assessment is the main trigger for off-flows from the Employment and Support Allowance load. We will continue to assess the potential for alternative interventions on those whose repeat Work Capability Assessments are deferred to seek to manage this consequence.”

No details of what those ‘alternative interventions’ might be is given.

It is clear, however, that the DWP is not keen for people to be aware of the ever more disastrous state of medical assessments for benefits by Atos. The memo explains that claimants who enquire about when their next WCA will be, should only be told that:

“Although the Department will periodically review a person’s Limited Capability for Work, there is no set date for this to happen.

“The timing of this review is at the discretion of the Decision Maker acting on behalf of the Secretary of State and is influenced by the evidence available to them, which can mean on occasion longer periods between face to face assessments. “

In addition, the memo explains that as this is simply an ‘operational decision’ and not a ‘policy change’ there are no plans to notify ‘external stakeholders such as claimants, claimant representative groups, Members of Parliament, etc.’

It is hard to imagine that IDS and his fellow DWP ministers believed that they could keep this further Atos-related failure secret for long: you can’t stop reassessing thousands of claimants a week without anyone noticing. If, however, they could have kept it secret at least until they found a new company to take on the repeat assessments, it would have been easier to explain away and not added to the ever mounting pressure for a complete overhaul of the WCA.

“Yes, there was briefly a problem” IDS could have said “But we now have a new provider and it is no longer an issue.”

As it is, this news is simply further proof that the WCA is not fit for purpose, because as soon as the DWP attempts to impose proper quality controls a massive backlog results. It is, we hope, another nail in the coffin of a completely discredited system.

And, for all those claimants with static or degenerative conditions who continue to be forced to undergo repeat assessments, often followed by repeat appeals, on an annual basis, the news will come as a welcome respite.

A thorn by any other name… Atos changes to OH Assist; business as usual

Reblogged from Vox Political:

Out with the old...: You can rest assured that the only change at Atos has been the company brand name.

Out with the old…: You can rest assured that the only change at Atos has been the company brand name.

Does anybody else find it suspicious that, days after a nationwide protest against its abysmal – and often terminal – administration of the Work Capability Assessment, Atos has changed the name of its UK brand to OH Assist?

The website is flashy and new but you can bet the service is just the same.

Is this an attempt to bamboozle stupid old ESA and PIP claimants into thinking a new company is taking over where Atos left off, when in fact it is the same old mob, still raking in the profits from that lucrative, £100 million-per-year government contract?

I think this is highly likely. We’ll await the DWP press release announcing the change (that is not a change) with interest. And not a little contempt.

Bad luck, Atos!

We’re not as stupid as you think.


Atos Gets 150,000 Complaints from GPs and Blames the DWP

Reblogged from Beastrabban's Weblog:

This is another piece on Atos that I’ve found on Youtube. It’s a report from Sky News, put up on the 18th October 2013, revealing that doctors have officially complained about the extra workload they are being placed under by people, who have been declared fit for work by Atos. They also reveal that the Citizens Advice Bureau had received 150,000 complaints about Atos.

The report also covers the case of Mr Cowper, a man dying of cancer, who was nevertheless found fit for work by Atos. Mr Cowper is only one of tens of thousands. The precise number is unknown because the government repeatedly refuses to release the figures, claiming that such requests are ‘vexatious’. See the relevant posts over at Vox Political on Mike’s attempts to get the figures out of them.

Atos, however, are complaining that they have been victimised. Their vice-president, Wayne Gibson, turns up on the programme to state that they were working for the government for fifteen years with no protests. They feel that they have been scapegoated for the government’s policies.

Now I was first thrown off benefits when Blair/ Brown were in power. If I remember correctly, there were strong articles about Atos in Private Eye even then. Furthermore, the company cannot pass the blame wholly onto the Government. They chose to bid for the contract and administer the tests. No-one forced them. If they had an moral objections to the work, they could simply have withdrawn their services. Or, if their health care professionals are as highly trained and skilled as they said, they could have sought to change the test itself. They did not. Now I think the company is right in that the DWP must also share the blame, but this does not, by any means, excuse them.

If you want to see the video on Youtube, it’s at ‘Atos Gets 150,000 Complaints, Atos say DWP to Blame’ at

Atos crisis: Fit-to-work checks shelved amid government contractor firm shambles

 People on Employment and Support Allowance will not be automatically retested until another firm can be brought into help, a leaked memo has revealed

Claims: Mike Penning
Ministers have been forced to halt medical checks on sick and disabled people because of the shambles engulfing hated firm Atos.

People on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will not be automatically retested until another firm can be brought into help, a leaked memo has revealed.

Only new claimants, those who say their circumstances have changed or people being moved over from Incapacity Benefit will have to undergo Work Capability Assessments.

Campaigners said that would mean thousands of people being spared the stressful and humiliating tests every week.

The revelation comes after Disability minister Mike Penning today admitted that the scheme was a “mess”.


Jack Monroe on ending the hunger scandal

"My petition plea to Chancellor George Osborne: We need a Budget to end the scandal of UK hunger"

Hunger campaigner Jack Monroe launches a new petition calling for a Budget that repairs the safety net we may all need at some time in our lives

People's voice: Jack hands in the Daily Mirror / Unite The Union food bank petition
In December, over 140,000 people signed my petition for Parliament to debate the stratospheric rise in food bank use.

Within days, with the support of the Daily Mirror, Unite the Union and the Trussell Trust, we got that debate. Yet over two months later, even more families are going hungry.

The good news is that more and more people from different walks of life are joining us in the fight to end UK hunger. Last week, as part of the End Hunger Fast campaign, 27 Anglican Bishops and 16 other clergy told David Cameron this can’t go on.

Just days before, Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols spoke out about UK hunger and its link to welfare reform. Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has offered his bishops his full support.

Now, I need your help again. There is less than a month to the 2014 Budget on March 19. The government has hinted at further deep cuts to the welfare state, and so far has offered no answers to the crisis of low wages and high food prices that are driving people to food banks.

Meanwhile, last week, a DEFRA report came out during parliamentary recess that showed how the vast growth of food banks is not driving demand, which welfare minister Lord Freud has claimed. In fact, the report says the opposite is actually true.

So, today, I’m launching a new petition calling for a different kind of Budget. One that repairs the safety net we may all need at some time in our lives.

One that tackles high food prices and sets a living wage so that parents no longer have to work long hours and still can’t feed their children.

This and every budget should have a hunger test. Will it drive more families to food banks – or will it tackle the scandal of UK hunger?

Specifically, we demand that the Budget:
  1. Bring in a Living Wage so that families can put food on their own tables.
  2. Repair the safety net of the welfare state – end punitive sanctions, the Bedroom Tax and other welfare reforms that are driving people to food banks.
  3. Tackle rising food and energy costs.
  4. Make reference to the exponential rise in food banks and UK hunger. The first step, after all, is to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
I know what it is to feel hungry and to see your child go hungry.

It’s a life of turning off the fridge because it’s empty anyway, of sitting across the table from your young son enviously staring down at his breakfast. Of having freezing cold showers and putting your child to bed in god knows how many layers of clothes in the evening.

It’s distressing. Depressing. Destabilising.

Imagine living for 11 weeks with no housing benefit, because of “delays”.

Imagine those 77 days of being chased for rent that you can’t pay, ignoring the phone, ignoring the door, drawing the curtains so the bailiffs can’t see that you’re home, cradling your son to your chest and sobbing that this is where it’s all ended up.

It feels endless. Hopeless. Cold. Wet. Day after day of “no”. No, we aren’t looking for staff. No, there isn’t anything else to eat. No, I can’t put the heating on. No, I haven’t got any money to pay my rent arrears. No, no, no.

A blog post I wrote 18 months ago, called Hunger Hurts went viral after I posted it in July 2012, describing the realities of poverty as an unemployed single mother.

But my story is not a unique one. From single parents that I met in Bristol at the Single Parents Action Network, to food bank users in Tower Hamlets, to a new, third food bank opening in my home town of Southend on Sea, people up and down the country are struggling to feed themselves and their families as a result of low wages, cuts and changes to benefits, zero hour contracts, benefit delays, and many other reasons.

Over half million people have received three days emergency food from Trussell Trust food banks since last Easter, having been referred by people like GPs, health visitors and schools.
Over one third of the food went to children.

As I write this, tens of thousands of kids in Britain are going hungry. Parents are looking at empty cupboards in despair, and wondering how to keep on skipping meals without their children noticing. Teenagers are turning up to school, weak and exhausted, and too hungry to learn.

Today, things are different for me, but I’m hungry for change. 

If you are too, please back our campaign and sign my petition at