Fighting Universal Credit

stall as on book smaller

If articles calling for the end of Universal Credit translated into resistance on the ground, then this cruel system would be history. But of course it doesn’t work like that. The fight against the attack on social security, of which UC is the flagship, does have the potential to become a rallying cry for major social change, but only if this is understood and taken up. The cuts are affecting more and more people, and, for the first time anywhere, people in low-paid work who rely on benefits to have enough to live on are becoming subject to the punitive sanctions regime. But there is no single action that claimants can take to disrupt the system in the same way as people withheld their Poll Tax, and we can’t do anything that might prevent people receiving their vital payments. The only group who could carry out concerted targeted action is the PCS, the union for DWP workers, and they have resisted all calls to intervene as this would require them to run up against Thatcher’s anti-union legislation. But that doesn’t mean we can do nothing.

As France is showing us, history can move quickly. There is a lot of anger against the current system, and we can help direct it against the architects of this politically inspired austerity and the brutal regimes they have created. We have long argued that ‘welfare’, and the need to support the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, could and should have been taken up as a rallying cry for a new Independence campaign. Instead all politics seems to have got lost in the byways of the debate around the EU, for which there seems little sign of an imminent end point of any kind. However, those basic bread and butter issues have not gone away. The fight against the destruction of our welfare system only grows in importance, and we will continue to ensure that no-one can forget it.

We hope that all those articles – as well as personal experience – will inspire more people to take up this fight, and for those who are wondering ‘but what can we do?’, we thought it might be useful to outline, again, the approach we have been taking. All our activity can be divided into three levels.

Grassroots solidarity

Every week, for over four years, we have had a stall outside Dundee jobcentre (and for some of that time also stalls in Govan and Paisley) where we have been able to talk with folk going in to sign on. We are acting as a sort of welfare rights sans frontiers, and because most of us are, or have been, in a similar position to the people we are talking with, we also provide mutual solidarity. Unlike the professionals, we also accompany people into meetings and assessments. Over the years we have been able to give support and confidence to a great many people, but this work is about more than that. It gives us a real understanding of what is happening, and it enables us to pass this understanding on to a wider public. Our regular blog provides useful information to those struggling through the system, and it also informs others about what is going on and why it matters.

Of course we have to make sure that any advice we give is accurate. We keep up to date with the main questions that we have to deal with, and ask the experts at the Child Poverty Action Group when we get stuck. And we have a list of office-based advisors we suggest people go to for further help. Central to this is our advice leaflet, which covers the basics and which we hand out to everyone going into the jobcentre. Particularly since the introduction of Universal Credit, we have caught the DWP making a large number of damaging errors. (For anyone thinking of doing similar stalls, you can download the leaflet here, and we would be happy to give advice on how to get started.)

Although the Tory government continues to ensure that the ‘welfare’ system gets worse, and we still hear accounts of bullying and intimidation, many people who come out of Dundee Jobcentre now assure us that they have been well-treated by the people working there. This was far from the case in the past, and we feel that it cannot be a coincidence that this change of approach has coincided with four years of campaigning scrutiny.

Campaigns on specific issues

We know that, ultimately, our political and economic system needs to change, but meanwhile there are meaningful reforms that we can fight for. These can be beneficial in themselves, and they can help build a movement for further change. We have helped highlight the horrors of sanctions, and we have helped to name and shame employers who are exploiting unpaid labour – both big companies and also local charities. (When it comes to the latter we try and engage them by letter first before putting a protest outside their door.) We have also lobbied politicians and councillors, responded to public consultations, and presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament. We always make clear that we know the cuts come from Westminster, but we believe that the Scottish Parliament can and must do more to help mitigate them. Our petition calls for more help in the budget, paid for by more progressive taxation. Specifically we have suggested that they provide more money for the Scottish Welfare Fund and for Discretionary Housing Payments (both funds that can be targeted at those most in need) and we have supported the call for a top up to child benefit. The draft budget will be announced on Wednesday. I expect we will be disappointed, but we will go on pushing these issues.

Looking at the bigger picture

At the same time as fighting for small changes we try and ensure we don’t lose sight of the bigger political and economic picture. Our economic analysis and our call for a Universal Basic Income (most clearly set out in our book) are inspired by our experiences of the realities of the current system of exploitation and punishment.

 

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‘My journal would be a testament to how well UC works…’

customer friendly

It is difficult to understand how a benefit that has been so many years in development can produce such a tragedy of errors.  This journal extract demonstrates how these play out in what should be a simple – because not unusual – case. Jim had been on ESA (the disability benefit), but when he went for a reassessment, he was found fit for work. He applied for a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision, and signed onto Universal Credit. The Mandatory Reconsideration was successful, and he was put into the ‘support group’ as unfit for work or work-related activity. This should have resulted in him receiving an extra £328.32 a month, as well as not having to go to the jobcentre.

Under Universal Credit, your main method of communicating with the DWP system is through an online journal. Jim’s journal shows how long it took for the system to register this simple change and pay him the money due. Along the way he had messages from at least nine different people, as well as nonsensical action requests that were subsequently withdrawn. He had advice from a Welfare Rights officer, who helped him chase the DWP office in Clydebank and clearly state his position, but the situation was only finally resolved when his MP wrote to the DWP on his behalf.

Jim’s journal is reproduced below. We can’t include the record of payments because this was retrospectively altered to appear as though they were paid correctly at the time, which seems to be standard practice.

We will be sending a copy of this record to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into the current state of the UK’s welfare safety net.

(All names have been changed.)

The picture shows another of the notices that recently appeared in the lobby of Dundee Jobcentre. I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic…

 

28 May 2018 at 5.08pm

Following my ESA disallowance on 03.05.18, I submitted a mandatory reconsideration and a claim for UC. On 17.05.2018 I spoke to a decision maker at Clydebank who said they would revise the ESA decision in my favour and place me in the Support … Some time has passed now and I have yet to hear anything. I would be grateful if you would advise me whether you have been advised of this change and if so when I can expect the adjusted payment. Many thanks

 

29 May 2018 at 8.52am

It was a Mr Mike Hawkins from welfare rights who asked me to get in contact about these changes can you please contact me on … to let me know what I have to do next. thank you.

 

29 May 2018 at 9.04am

I have forwarded your query onto your case manager for response Jim. Angie

[Added by Angela Dundee Jobcentre Plus]

 

29 May 2018 at 9.07

thank you … i’m just a bit worried because the housing has contacted me about having to supply details of the benefits I’m receiving for my rent ..

 

29 May 2018 at 10.40am

The payments section on your account has a breakdown of your benefits Jim.

[Added by Angela Dundee Jobcentre Plus]

 

29 May 2018 at 11.46am

i can’t find a payments section anywhere on here …

 

29 May 2018 at 11.57am

Jim, It will appear after your first payment which is due on 16/6/18

[Added by Angela Dundee Jobcentre Plus]

 

29 May 2018 at 11.59am

ok

 

30 May 2018 at 3.57pm

Hi Jim, we have had no contact regarding your mandatory re-consideration. it will be sent to you first or put on your journal. please contact us once you have received it to allow us to get outstanding payment processed. regards Liam

[Added by Liam Dundee Service Centre

 

5 Jun 2018 at 10.47am

Failure to attend appointment completed

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.01am

Liam … i have just been told i missed an appointment this morning at 10 past nine …. i had and no knowledge of this appointment or i would have attended .. welfare rights and clydebank had advised me i didn’t have to go back to the wellgate office ..

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.02am

angela.. i have just been told i missed an appointment this morning…

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.28am

Hi Jim.

I advised you of this appointment at our last meeting and this was also sent to you on your journal. You are required to attend appointments with me (your work coach). Can you please advise when you were advised by Clydebank that you did not have to attend further appointments and who you spoke to. Thanks Angie

[Added by Angela Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.30am

On 17.05.2018 I spoke to a decision maker at Clydebank who said they would revise the ESA decision in my favour and place me in the Support group…

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.38am

i am waiting on an email from welfare rights that i can send you … i hope this helps

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.48am

Thank you for alerting me to my journal this morning. I had no idea that I was due to attend a meeting this morning and apologise for this oversight. I would be grateful if you would reschedule this meeting. I have looked at my journal and am not seeing any notification of appointments and would be grateful if you would direct me to where I have missed this instruction. In discussion with Angela, my advisor, I had the impression that I wasn’t to attend again, suggesting to me that I go to my GP. I recently appealed the decision to take me off ESA. I spoke to a decision maker at Clydebank a couple of weeks ago who was very helpful and advised they were going to reinstate my ESA placing me in the Support Group (Welfare Rights also spoke to this decision maker and were of the same impression, though they questioned whether ESA could be reinstated now that a UC claim has been made). The decision maker advised me I would no longer require to submit fit-notes [DWP-speak for sick notes] and not to worry about UC as they would be in touch with you. I have yet to receive written confirmation from ESA or I would forward it to you immediately and I assume there has been no contact between ESA and yourselves. While ESA were quick to reconsider the ESA decision they don’t appear as swift in processing the change or notifying you of this event. I am very worried about the consequences of missing this meeting and a sanction would have a financially devastating effect on me. My first payment date still seems to be an eternity away for me and I would not knowingly jeopardise this… Many thanks.

 

5 Jun 2018 at 1.18pm

Hi Jim.

Your appointment was on your account under “to do” – attend your commitment review. However, this has now been removed as you did not attend. There will be no sanction applied for failure to attend. With regard your ESA, this cannot be re-instated and you are now on Universal Credit however I can see that you have been place in the support group following a review of your case. I have referred this to your Case Manager to chase up and provide the decision to you. You will not be required to attend the Job Centre at this time. You will need to “Accept your Commitments” on your account (to do) once your ESA decision has been carried over to Universal Credit. Hope this clears things up.

Angie

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

5 Jun 2018 at 1.21

thank you angela … im sorry I didnt see it or i would have came in …

 

5 Jun 2018 at 4.38pm

No problem Jim.

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

7 Jun 2018 at 12.55pm

Hi Jim, I see that Angela has already sent a message to you through your journal. Thanks

[Added by Gordon  Dundee Service Centre]

 

11 Jun 2018 at 12.13pm

Hello

You have made an online application for Universal Credit. please can you now call 0800 328 5644 to make an appointment at the jobcentre to allow us to progress your claim – Thanks

[Added by Julie  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

11 Jun 2018 at 1.04pm

angela, this just came the day in my journal […]

 

13 Jun 2018 at 8.09am

gordon, i was hoping you can help as i haven’t hear back from angela … this appeared in my journal 2 days ago. can you explain why i received this message? […]

 

14 Jun 2018 at 4.25pm

i want paid fortnightly & i want my rent to go direct to the housing …

 

14 Jun 2018 at 5.59pm

Hello Jim – this was an error with the message – please just ignore it – sorry about that – thanks

[Added by Gemma  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

14 Jun 2018 at 6.07pm

Hello Jim. I have passed your request on to the service centre and they should action this for you – they will respond to your message – Thanks

[Added by Gemma  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

15 Jun 2018 at 9.08am

i was notified that i had been placed in the support group but my payment is much less than what i received before. my journal says i only receive a standard uc payment but was told i would receive more because of the support group, why haven’t i received it?

 

17 June 2018 at 8.43am

Choose how you housing costs are paid completed

 

17 June 2018 at 8.44am

Choose how often your Universal Credit is paid completed

 

20 Jun 2018 at 1.24pm

Do you have a letter from ESA to confirm this as system has not been updated it still shows claim ended no LCW [Limited Capability for Work]. I have sent off to ESA for confirmation but that could take a week before I get a reply.

Adam

[Added by Adam  Dundee Service Centre]

 

20 Jun 2018 at 1.27pm

i don’t have any letters Adam .. i am seeing someone from welfare rights this afternoon. hopefully he can advise me

 

20 Jun 2018 at 1.30pm

whats LCW?

 

20 Jun 2018 at 3.21pm

Good afternoon Adam. I have spoken to Mike at Welfare Rights, who also got a call from the decision maker at Clydebank regarding my ESA mandatory reconsideration, and he will e-mail the customer services team tomorrow asking for a decision letter. Mike was called by Clydebank on 17.05.18 and advised that it was likely that I would be placed in the Support Group. Mike was surprised that I hadn’t received some form of written confirmation as more than a month has now passed. Looking back through my journal I had corresponded with Angela and in an entry on 05.06.2018 she was able to confirm that I had been placed in the support group after review. While I endeavour to find some form of confirmation that my MR [Mandatory Reconsideration] was successful, I would be grateful if you would double check your available systems to see if there is in fact any confirmation of me being placed in the support group. You will appreciate that I am very anxious in this matter and keen to have the matter resolved. Many thanks. Jim

 

4 Jul 2018 2018 at 8.44am

have you had a reply back from ESA yet adam??

 

13 Jul 2018 at 1.39pm

i contacted you on 20.06.18 – over 3 weeks ago & you still havent responded ?? Do u read these journals n do you ever respond back to any querys ??

 

19 Jul 2018 at7.57pm

Yes i do have a letter adam .. but nobody has responded back to me since i sent a message on 20th of June ?

 

5 Aug 2018 at 12.01pm

Hi Jim.

There does not appear to be any electronic notification in your Universal Credit account advising that you are in a different work group. Please contact the Universal Credit Helpline on 0800 328 5644 to query this further. Phone using the contact number you registered with your account to get in touch with your case manager.

Thanks

[Added by Rehana]

 

6 Aug 2018 at 8.23am

ive already said i have the letter from esa here … why cant i bring it into the signing office to see my advisor ??? also i don’t know what “using the contact number i registered with” means .. what contact number ??

 

7 Aug 2018 at 9.05am

You went to your further evidence appointment

[Completed by an agent]

 

7 Aug 2018 at 4.06pm

Hi Jim.

The contact number you registered with refers to your user name and password. I can see how this information would be confusing. I see you have provided copies of letters received regarding ESA decision and your case…

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

15 Aug 2018 at 5.02am

Choose how your housing costs are paid has expired

 

15 Aug 2018 at 5.02am

Choose how often you Universal Credit is paid has expired

 

15 Aug 2018 at 9.52am

i want my rent oaid direct to my landlord & i want my payments fortnightly …

 

26 Aug 2018 at 9.11am

Please call 0800 328 5644 on Tuesday 28.8.2018 – they should be able to arrange this for you. (the office is closed Monday 27.8.2018)

[Added by Adam]

 

9 Sep 2018 at 9.40am

i presented evidence on 07.08.18 and it was confirmed in my journal that i am in the support group. yet i am still in the standard payment group.. why hasn’t this been resolved yet. how can i contact my case manager?

 

11 Sept 2018 at 4.50pm

Hi Jim

You can send a message to your Case manager by choosing Service issues option when you send a message. Alternatively you can call the Service Centre on 0800 328 5644

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

11 Sep 2018 at 6.04pm

yeah .. cos we all luv to listen to vivaldi for 38 minutes on loop ….

 

11 Sep 2018 at 6.11pm

who is my case manager and how do i contact them without waiting a month for a response?

 

12 Sep 2018 at 1.54pm

I’ve asked that your Case Manager, Liam, looks at your case and respond to any issues you may have. They will update your journal by 2pm Friday 14 September with further information.

Angie

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

14 Sep 2018 at 4.55pm

im still waiting on a response back from my case manager … you had said we will update my journal by 2pm Friday 14 September with further information.

 

17 Sep 2018 at 12.16pm

how long does yir journal entries take to appear in my journal ? STILL WAITING .. im just going to go through my welfare rights representative and my mp. Because u lie & ignore me constantly n make me more agitated than i was .. i also think my journal would be a testament to how well UC works better than the old system..

 

17 Sep 2018 at 12.29pm

I also want to query why 8 different people has responded back to me on my journal … i thought i had a case manager and an advisor ?? why is my medical condition public to Everyone ??

 

23 Sep 2018 at 10.55pm

… im still waiting for an update from th 14th from my case manager adam ?

 

23 Sep 2018 at 11.00pm

or liam

 

28 Sep 2018 at 3.03pm

Good afternoon Jim

When you made your claim to universal credit you declared that you did not have a health condition. In order for us to review your payments and ensure you are being paid the correct amounts I have created a To-do for you, This is asking for you to report your health condition as a change of circumstances, If you can enter the date effective from as 09/05/2018. Once this has been completed we can review your payment amounts. If you require any assistance with this then please do not hesitate to call us on 0800 328 5644 or you can discuss at the job centre plus.,

Kind regards UC

[Added by Harvey  Dundee Service Centre]

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.20 pm

Report an illness or disability completed

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.21pm

New illness or condition – declare changes cancelled

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.24pm

i am reporting a change of circumstances about my health … i still have the same illness i had when i was receiving esa … this has not changed …

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.32pm

this has not changed since the 09. 05. 18 …

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.43pm

Good afternoon Jim

I understand this. in order to add any decisions we would need you to declare that you had a health condition on your universal credit claim. As universal credit and ESA are different benefits we can not add this to your claim until you have declared a health condition on universal credit

Kind regards UC

[Added by Harvey  Dundee Service Centre]

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.47pm

Report health change

 

28 Sep 2018 at 5.26pm

please see attached

Read the attached file:…

[Added by Angela  Dundee Service Centre]

 

4 Oct 2018 at 1.12pm

Accept your commitments completed

 

5 Oct 2018 at 11.52pm

why are you now asking for a fit note ??? ive gave you all the documents you need … i will go and see my MP again because i thought this miscommunication had been resolved .. apparently not.

& why if this is so important i wasn’t notified as usual by text??

 

5 Oct 2018 at 11.55pm

Health – declare a new fit note cancelled

 

13 October 2018 at 10.36

Hi Jim

You do not need to provide a fit note since you have been found to have limited capability for work requirement. Sorry about any miscommunication or misunderstanding.

[Added by Tom]

 

15 Oct 2018 at 8.05 am

Ok thank you

The suicide question

 

judge

I’m sorry, I have to ask you, but have you ever had suicidal thoughts? When? Did you act on them? What did you do? What happened? And were there other times? Each heart-wrenching answer seemed only to prompt a further question, and although they were asked with gentleness and seeming concern, the questioner was a Work Capability assessor. The aim of this deeply personal grilling was not to help, but to judge. And that matters. Hugely.

I have been with people when that have been asked about suicide before – it is a standard question the assessors ‘have to’ ask. The grilling has never been quite as persistent as it was when I accompanied Julia last week, but it is never comfortable. And the awful thing is that you hesitate to suggest they move onto another line of questioning because every awful recollection can strengthen the case for the person being declared unfit for work. Nothing exemplifies the cruelty of the assessment system more than the suicide question.

No doubt the DWP will take refuge behind the argument that talking about these things can be helpful. But this has to be done in a sympathetic and caring environment. Suicidal thoughts can often come from a sense that no-one cares. To be asked to reveal such a raw personal history, for it merely to be fed into the system, may simply serve to confirm those feelings. And what if, after all that, your case is dismissed as not serious enough to merit ESA? How could that make you feel?

Julia has already been let down so many times by a system that just doesn’t seem to care, and she is in constant fear of being judged. I was glad I was able to be there with her – welfare services don’t generally provide that form of support and people often face this questioning alone – and that she had a friend ready to talk with her when she got home. I hope that helped a bit. But this sort of questioning should not be happening. Doctors and other professionals who know the person applying for ESA should be able to provide the evidence needed (as we expect to see happen with PIP assessments when the Scottish Government eventually takes these over). This is far from the first time the horror and danger of the suicide question has been raised, but so long as nothing is done to change the system we need to keep protesting at what is happening.

If you are feeling depressed and need someone to talk to, try contacting Breathing Space, which is run by NHS Scotland  

 

The DWP blame game

cartoon trimmed

This image sums up the official DWP position that success or failure is a personal responsibility, and nothing to do with objective circumstances, such as a lack of suitable jobs. Along with other similar cartoons it now decorates the entrance lobby of Dundee Jobcentre.

I wonder if the people who copied and laminated it and pinned it to the board (alongside coloured inspirational stars) stopped to think that it might also sum up how those who developed the Universal Credit system regard them –the people who have to administer it. While some jobcentre advisors are better – or worse – than others, the serious problems lie in the system, rather than with the overstretched, undertrained people who are expected to make it work – and to believe in this rubbish. But the DWP stubbornly refuses to take any responsibility for creating a system so ill-conceived and poorly implemented that not only is it punitive (that bit’s deliberate) but frequent errors are inevitable.

It’s now official – poverty is UK Government policy

the-special-rapporteur-hears-from-children-in-scotland

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has published his statement following his visit to the UK, and he hasn’t pulled his punches. He doesn’t say anything that has not been said before, but he can speak with an authority others can’t command. The trouble is that the UN has no powers to make the UK shift course. If they had, I have a feeling that that this sort of report wouldn’t be allowed to be written.

After setting out evidence of the appalling growth and extent of poverty in the UK, Professor Alston concludes that:

poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.

He writes about ‘the overall social safety net… being systematically dismantled’

And he observes that:

British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.

I’m not sure what is especially ‘British’ about compassion, but the rest is spot on.

In a long critique of Universal Credit he notes that,

many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting.

And he speculates that DWP motivation for the built in delay in claimants receiving their first Universal Credit payment includes ‘wanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship’.

Alston observes:

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic.

But, as he has made clear, this disaster is being deliberately imposed.

Although there may be savings in the DWP budget, Alston is convinced that cuts  and changes to social security have not been about saving money overall. ‘In the area of poverty-related policy’ he writes,

the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering… Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.

In fact – and this is a point that is not made nearly enough – he observes that,

the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.  The many billions advertised as having been extracted from the benefits system since 2010 have been offset by the additional resources required to fund emergency services by families and the community, by local government, by doctors and hospital accident and emergency centres, and even by the ever-shrinking and under-funded police force.

Alston describes the UK Government as remaining ‘determinedly in a state of denial’, with ministers insisting that ‘all is well and running according to plan’. Predictably, this state continues, and they deny the truth of the report. And from the Government perspective, the Brexit plan chaos would seem to have a small silver lining, as this had been a good week to bury other bad news. So don’t expect this report to bring any radical change. But we have seen another nail go into the benefit-cuts coffin – another small shift in public understanding and perception of what is happening – and it has become that little bit harder for any future government to backtrack on reversing the assault on the poor.

(There is an unfortunate error in the section of the report looking at Scotland where it claims that Glasgow City Council only turns round 3% of Welfare Fund Grants within 24 hours. A council spokesman told Saturday’s National that the correct figure is 91%.)

The picture shows Professor Alston talking to school children in Glasgow. It was taken by Bassam Khawaja and published in Third Force News

Are the DWP rewriting your history?

delete

Your online journal provides a record of all your exchanges with the DWP. It is vital evidence in case of any dispute – but that won’t help if the DWP has altered or deleted earlier comments. This is what had happened to the journal of a couple who we met outside the jobcentre recently. They are going through a long and complicated dispute, and found that their history had been rewritten. What the DWP had perhaps not calculated on was that they had been careful to keep their own records and copies of everything! (We don’t know how common this is, but we are aware of another example where, after months of correspondence to get the correct benefit, the journal record didn’t show this as the back-payment that was actually received, but instead uprated all the previous payment records to what they should have been.)

The couple reminded us that we had helped them uncover an error some time back, when the DWP had tried to move them wrongly onto Universal Credit. Although they had been making a new benefit claim following a change in circumstances, they have three children, and no new claims were being accepted in the Universal Credit system for families with three children or more. This restriction was supposed to come to an end at the beginning of this month, but like so much else in Universal Credit, the change has been pushed back and won’t now happen until the end of January.  Putting people onto Universal Credit when they should be on other benefits has been a relatively common error; and all errors seem to be absurdly complicated to remedy.

Social Security Committee asks for bigger Scottish Welfare Fund

19-11-01 Social Security Committee

On Thursday, the Scottish Social Security Committee wrote to Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, to ask for more money for the Scottish Welfare fund in the forthcoming Scottish budget. The fund has not been increased since 2013/14, which, as they point out, represents a decrease in real value, after inflation, of more than 7%, at a time of growing need. (You can see the letter here: 18-11-01 Social Security Committee to Cabinet Secretary

Thursday was also the day when the committee looked briefly at our petition for using more progressive taxation to mitigate welfare cuts – including through more money for the Scottish Welfare Fund. We were disappointed that the committee gave the petition less than 5 minutes – even though they decided not to close it down as suggested by the chair – but we hope that it helped contribute to the weight of evidence that pushed them to write that letter. And the chair expressly wanted to put on record that the points were clearly made and not lost on the committee. (See from 10.20.36 to 10.25.10 here)

Of course this is only a small start, and we must wait and see what actually happens with the Scottish budget, and how bold the Scottish Government decides to be, both in focusing on those who have lost out under ‘austerity’, and in making taxation more progressive to support this. Boldness has hardly been a characteristic of this government, but anything short of copying the UK Government’s tax cuts for high earners will have most mainstream news sources squealing in outrage anyway.

And we can take some encouragement from the recent Scottish Parliament debate on ‘Ending Austerity, Poverty and Inequality’, held on 24 October. This demonstrated that issues around mitigating the cuts are being discussed – though this got rather drowned out in the media reports by horror at Michelle Ballantyne’s defence of the two child limit for Universal Credit payments. (She was the MSP who asked me, when we presented our petition, why we had missed out the Conservatives when we wrote to MSPs about mitigating the welfare cuts– I think she has just provided the answer.)

Slowly we are helping to change the focus of debate – we need to keep up the pressure!

 

Does Hammond really think that those two changes to UC are enough?

budget 2018

I’ve just sat through the whole budget waiting for the government’s answer to the widespread concern over UC. All Hammond would recognise were concerns over just two issues. He promises some extra help for people moving over from existing benefits – two weeks of support for those moving from JSA, ESA or IS, but only after July 2020. And what about people making new applications? New applicants will go on having to wait those 5-6 weeks for their first payment, building up unmanageable debt, and creating huge problems for social housing providers as rents are delayed. All that has been promised for them is the possibility to pay back that debt more slowly, and that only after October 2019.

And Hammond will give more help to people in work by increasing the work allowance – ie raising the cut-off rate for eligibility. This is a reversal of previous cuts both to Tax Credits and then in the change from Tax Credits to Universal Credit.

They have also made it a bit easier for self employed people to get started – but it will go on being a nightmare for them after that; and they admit that the full change over to UC will not be complete until December 2023, though they still plan to begin to force people on existing benefits to move to UC from July next year.

Nothing has been done about the benefit freeze that has reduced the real levels of benefits for years, or the benefit cap that reduces some families’ benefits even further, or the rape clause, or the chaos caused by lack of staff and training…

And after that miserable announcement on UC, Hammond went on to announce a tax cut for big earners by raising the threshold for higher rate income tax.

And the whole budget was dressed up as a reward for the ‘hard work of the British people’ – a phrase he repeated multiple times to suggest we were all in this together – given to ‘hardworking families, strivers, grafters and carers’.

So no change to the rhetoric, and no change to austerity politics, and definitely not enough to quiet concern over Universal Credit!

More frequent payments – or just an even longer wait

Calendar

The Scottish Government squeezed three small concessions from Westminster on Universal Credit. First, people in Scotland can chose whether their housing element is paid direct to their landlord. And second, we can choose to have payments made twice a month rather than monthly. The trouble is that this is done by delaying half the payment for even longer. You will already have waited five or six weeks for your first Universal Credit payment – and likely got into debt as a result. Then at the end of the next month you will only receive half the amount. As a special concession you will be allowed to wait a further 15 days for the rest. When we met Stevie outside the jobcentre he had just discovered what twice monthly payments really meant, and had asked to go back on monthly payments as he couldn’t last on what he had received. (To make matters worse, he had been told that the wait was 3 weeks rather than 15 days, which is simply wrong.) Twice monthly payments can make it easier to plan – but not if you have to get into debt first.

Oh – and the third concession. Well, people in Scotland are supposed to get the option to receive Universal Credit individually instead of as a single payment for the household, but it seems that the Scottish Government hasn’t actually been given a mechanism that allows them to make that happen without the consent of both partners, so that third concession has been left on an inaccessible shelf.

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Despite growing public concern about Universal Credit, Dundee jobcentre hasn’t given up trying to persuade people to shift onto the new system before they have to. We had reassured David that he didn’t have to move from JSA, but when he emerged from the jobcentre he informed us that they had found another way to make his life more difficult. Now that he has been unemployed for 18 months they are making him come into the jobcentre weekly. This was a fairly common practice a few years back, but we hadn’t come across it recently.

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We have just learnt that our petition on mitigating welfare cuts will finally be discussed by the Scottish Government Social Security Committee on Thursday. Here is the agenda.  You will be able to watch the discussion on line here.

Have you applied for PIP?

Scrabble

This is a question we often ask people who have applied for ESA (or the equivalent under Universal Credit) – especially if they have had their ESA refused and are wondering how they will survive. And often we discover that people haven’t applied for PIP because they don’t know what it is. DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) have found people similarly confused when talking to them outside the assessment centre in Glasgow. So we thought it might help if we wrote a brief explanation.

One cause of the confusion is that the names chosen by the DWP follow some weird logic that is known only to them and has no base in reality. Their most incomprehensible name is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the name for the benefit given to those unable to work. In areas that fall under Universal Credit full service, ESA has been swallowed up into Universal Credit, but the system for demonstrating that you are unable to work remains very similar.

PIP stands for Personal Independence Payment and replaces the rather more easily understood Disability Living Allowance. Basically, it is designed to compensate for some of the extra costs associated with being sick or disabled. You can get PIP whether or not you are working and whether or not you also receive ESA/Universal Credit, and it is NOT means tested. Although the application for ESA and PIP is somewhat similar – both make use of a detailed questionnaire and simplistic ‘tick-box’ style ‘medical’ assessment carried out by a private company – they are looking for slightly different things. PIP, like DLA, can be awarded for problems with daily living or problems with mobility or both. Daily living means things like getting up and bathed and dressed, and making and eating food. Problems need not be physical, they can include things like being too depressed to get up, or too feart to go out on your own. Like for ESA, it is a good idea to get someone who knows the system, and what scores points, to help fill out the form; and it is also good to get someone to come with you to the assessment to check the key points are covered and to ensure that the subsequent report is an accurate reflection of what actually happened – as well as to give moral support. There is lots of advice on all this on the internet, e.g. from Benefits and Work.

In case this isn’t confusing enough, children under 18 still get DLA rather than PIP, and if you are a pensioner the relevant benefit is Attendance Allowance, which doesn’t include the mobility bit. If you are already on PIP though, you stay on that rather than move to Assistance Allowance, so if you have mobility problems and are getting older, you might want to apply for PIP before it is too late (the exact rules are complicated).

And, of course, sometime in the now not so distant future, PIP, DLA and Assistance Allowance will be taken over by the Scottish Government and replaced by a system that we are promised will be much fairer…