Tuesday, 29 May 2018

DWP Sanctions - Select Committee Summary (May 2018)

The first hour comprised a panel of experts being questioned by various members of the Select Committee of which Frank Field is the chair.  The second hour was three claimants experiences of being sanctioned and it's well worth watching that.  This blog is just to summarise the first hour. The whole discussion can be seen by clicking on the link below:

DWP Select Committee Discussion on Sanctions

The three panelists were Matthew Oakley (Independent Reviewer of JSA Sanctions), Tony Wilson (Director of Policy & Research, learning & Work Institute) and Dr David Webster (Senior Research Fellow (University of Glasgow). Of all of them I found I agreed with David Webster the most as he remembered the way things were before it all got ridiculously punitive.

Matthew Oakley mentioned that there had been no trialling of the yellow card system before people receive a sanction.

Tony Wilson reported that increasing sanctions had become part of the conditional approach. He said that it wasn't that the conditionality regime was failing but people are being actively targeted for sanctions. He said there'd been no government research to look at the impact of sanctions or no evaluation e.g. looking at economic, labour market or health impacts.  He said it wouldn't even cost that much (a few hundred thousand pounds).

Tony Wilson

David Webster said there shouldn't be any sanctions for sick and disabled people because they're counterproductive. 'Nobody else in the world uses them.'  Regarding unemployed people he said there is evidence to show that sanctioning does push people into work earlier but into worse jobs with lower productivity and damaging effects on health, family relationships and debt. He compared it with a business model and said 'what business model would model itself on the needs of a tiny minority?'  He said there's only a small minority who aren't trying to get a job 'so why design a system around that small minority and upset all of your other customers unnecessarily?' He said that you only need to mention sanctions at a much later stage and that a warning about sanctions should come after an assessment. He said very often there's serious problems going on in claimants' lives and quoted an example of where a claimant had missed several interviews and instead of sanctioning him the Job Coach had sent someone out to see him and found out that he had severe mental health problems and was suicidal.  If they'd not done that there would have been 'another national scandal on their hands'. He said they were just trying to do their job well but there's nothing in the procedures to try and find out what's going on in cases like these.

David Webster

Matthew Oakley agreed disabled people shouldn't be sanctioned and that it was too dangerous for people with mental health problems i.e. threatening to take their money away from them.

Tony Wilson went further and said that recent developments have shown that even having conditionality isn't effective for sick and disable people, let alone sanctions.

Matthew Oakley said that there's no reason why we shouldn't give more to sick and disabled people who come along for interview and help them towards work which was an idea that was floated when ESA was first introduced in 2008. In other words, a carrot rather than a stick! He also mentioned that disabled claimants on JSA are more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled claimants on JSA and 'that's hugely worrying'. He also mentioned about young and/or homeless people being sanctioned because they don't know the system.

(Heidi Allen who's on the Select Committee interjected here and said 'it's almost as if the system has been built assuming everyone's a rotter.' I can't help wondering where she was when IDS introduced all these changes.)

Tony Webster reported that there had been more sanctions applied in some years than there have been court fines. But he said the system 'doesn't observe the rules of natural justice, there isn't an impartial hearing and you don't hear both sides. You're sanctioned first and then you require the individual to submit evidence to prove. The burden of proof is the wrong way round, to prove they didn't cheat rather than for the accuser to prove that they did. The system hasn't always been like that.'

David Webster was concerned that the rate of sanctions under Universal Credit were very high. He said neither can you see the rate of sanctions for different groups e.g. unemployed, those on ESA, single parents etc. He said that the rate of sanctioning is much higher for UC claimants than JSA claimants, even when JSA sanctioning was at its peak.  He said this may be to do with the fact that with JSA they would close the case rather than sanction but they can't do this with UC because people may be receiving another element e.g. housing, for children etc so they have to sanction them instead.

He went on to say that sanctioning should be as a last resort and only needed for a small minority of claimants but Job Centre staff aren't doing that.  He said that under the old Supplementary Benefit rules there used to be Unemployment Review Officers who were specialists and would call people in for interview and find out about their issues. They were skilled people and it was their full time job to assess and advise people who were 'problematic'. They would visit people in their homes to see if they needed help but also to investigate fraud. He felt that discretion shouldn't be given to JobCentre staff at the first stage but via a review process later down the line, with increasingly specialised and experienced people.

Tony Wilson explained that JobCentre staff do have discretion. He said 'if somebody doesn't attend an interview you'd think there'd be some effort to understand...to have a conversation before you refer for sanction.'

David Webster stated that it was wrong 'to have turned something that was a perfectly acceptable social insurance system into a penal system'. He said it's not the kind of employment service 'which is going to deliver a heathy, improving labour force.' He went on to say that the regulations have conflated entitlement: that is whether you're entitled because you're really unemployed or whether you're entitled because you've complied with requirements about the activity after you've lodged your claim. He felt the distinction needed to be restored as well as a system that operates with the majority of claimants in mind and to treat abuse of the system as a separate issue which there have always been provisions for addressing but prior to the 1980s didn't dominate as they do now. Now claimants are being told it's a punitive system. He said some parts of the benefit system are highly controversial whereas some of the conditions for qualification e.g. not getting benefit for the first few weeks if you gave up your job voluntarily without good reason are not very controversial and were part of the Trade Union scheme conditions from the beginning.  Others are highly controversial e.g. actively seeking work and keeping a diary and signing a claimant commitment were introduced in the late 1920s and abolished in 1930 and only brought back in 1989. He said it was highly controversial 'because it's the state saying they know better than you do about how you're going to get a job.' The requirement to attend an interview hasn't been in since the beginning, only in the last 20 years or so. The interview was brought over from Scandinavia to see if people could be helped, based on their skills, qualifications etc.

As I said though, it's well worth watching the second hour and of the people who had been experienced being sanctioned and how it had effected their lives.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Make Your Vote Count...Vote For Real Change (GE2017 - Week 8)

Well, we're almost here...

Jeremy has led an inspiring campaign and drawn in the crowds wherever he speaks. 

But take nothing for granted.  Nothing will change if you don't vote!  People who don't vote can't blame anybody else when we see further decimation of our public services, our NHS, our schools, our community police, when inequality gets ever wider and workers' rights and disability benefits are stripped even more; when more people are hungry and homeless - a blight on any civilised society.

I don't want to watch the Exit Polls come in tomorrow night and see what I did in the general election 2015 - when pollsters over-estimated the Labour vote and neither do I don't want to wake up on Friday morning in deep despair to hear that Theresa May has a mandate or a landslide majority to deliver a hard Brexit and give us even more reasons to be miserable! I trust Jeremy Corbyn as an intelligent negotiator - someone who will put workers' rights, human rights, tariff-free access to the single market, security and environmental protection at the top of the agenda.

If you're in a marginal, vote tactically if you must, as long as it's for a progressive party.  Even a hung parliament will be an achievement and will scupper Theresa May's hand in government.  If you're in Scotland and a Unionist, Labour will give you the best of both worlds - anti-austerity while staying as part of the UK. 

So now it's over to you.  Make your vote count whatever the weather so we can all wake up to a hopeful and positive future for old and young on Friday morning, and put an end to the nightmare of austerity politics for good.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

A Real Alternative to the Same Old Tired Politics of Austerity (GE2017 - Week 7)

The Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn offers a real alternative - a chance for progressive politics instead of the failed politics of austerity that we've all been subjected to for these past 7 years.

So much has changed in the last two years - since the 2015 general election.  It seems so much longer ago than two years when each party was squabbling for what they perceived to be the centre ground.  I and many other like me kept noticing that the Tories were dictating the narrative and pulling Labour along to the right with them.  This left a yawning void on the Left and I wondered why it wasn't being filled. Surely there was an appetite for an alternative?  But frightened by the unchallenged and false narrative chanted ad nauseam by the Right that Labour had crashed the economy (rather than it being a result of the banking crisis), Labour did little to counteract these claims. They could have easily done.  They could have boasted how well the economy had done under years of Labour until 2008.  But instead many former Labour supporters became disillusioned by the offer of what many perceived to be 'Tory Lite' and a Westminster club out of touch with their constituents, especially in the regions most distant from London: the north east, the south west and many more.

Labour was at a crossroads. Ed Miliband did put forward many progressive policies but they weren't translated into votes.  Socialism was the elephant in the room but when it was mentioned, Labour seemed to be defensive and apologetic, instead of proud.

But when they lost the 2015 election and Ed Miliband resigned, one outsider put his name forward - that was, Jeremy Corbyn.  Against the others - Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and even Andy Burnham, he stood out.  He offered a real alternative.

This is what those on the Left had been craving - not another watered-down Tory. After all, if people want to vote Tory, why would they vote for a paler version?  You have to be offering a real alternative and that's what Labour offer now. Corbyn took a gamble and was unafraid. He embraced the new way of doing things, via social media and emails, as well as good old-fashioned crowd-pulling talks up and down the country where he always pulls a crowd.

Far from showing character weakness, he's showed dogged determination - and that he isn't a quitter! He listens - that's an important part of being a leader, he says, in his quiet unassuming manner.  In fact the Labour manifesto has been put together as part of that listening exercise and isn't a million miles away from the policies of the SNP - which many of us south of the border could only dream about two years ago.

But the Brexit referendum has further shifted people's alliegances.  The political landscape has changed. Just by how much will be confirmed or otherwise on June 8th.  But make no mistake, five more years of austerity as well as a hard Brexit will leave our country and its people more divided and all the poorer. This is our chance to turn the tide, to vote for investment into our public services and our young people as well as a savvy negotiation out of the EU, a vote for social justice and a fairer more equal society.  And everyone benefits from that.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

Manchester - Campaigns Suspended (General Election 2017 - Week 6)

Such a waste of young life, we're all agreed, as the gallery of mainly young female youth looks out on us from our TV screens. Photos taken in happier times.  Immortalized in tragedy. We can hardly pin down our feelings - beyond raw disbelief and shock. Children and young people enjoying themselves at a pop concert, children who should be tucked up asleep now, or riding home with their parents, relaying the songs, the atmosphere, the joy at seeing their idol perform.  Young parents waiting for their children to hear all about the above, but mown down in their loving parental duty. Those of us over 50 may never have heard the name of the young female star - but we all know of her now.  We all know the face of the youngest child, brown-eyed, smiling gently at us from our TV screens - fresh, beautiful, a life barely begun...
We watch the news for developments, disbelieving it to be true, that here in Manchester, such an atrocity could unfold. We watch the spirit of Manchester rise in love, queuing to donate blood from their bodies to help the injured, people offering lifts backwards and forwards across the city and beyond through the night to bring home the stranded and frightened and confused, people offering their homes and flooding social media with kindness.  All nations and ethnic backgrounds coming together to lay flowers and pink helium balloons, heart-shaped. This is Manchester. A diverse city. We stand together.  We won't be cowed.  We won't be divided. The Moslem community rise to condemn, non-Moslems stand with them in solidarity.  An elderly Jewish woman and her Moslem friend walk the streets together, publicly condemning.

Political divisions and aggressive general election campaigning is laid aside. None of that matters, for today. For tomorrow. What matters is the spirit of Manchester.

But how quickly that those in supposed journalism show their true colours, wasting no time to find a cheap and obscene opportunity to score political points.  Did The Sun really think they could curry support from the sister city to Liverpool - where it has already been disgraced and banned for its vicious campaign against Liverpool fans at Hillsborough?

They wanted a cheap jibe at Jeremy Corbyn's approach to terrorism and his multi-pronged approach.  Peace is never achieved by war-war, it is achieved by jaw-jaw, and getting round the table.  How else did we reach the Good Friday agreement?  Two petitions were started to boycott The Sun but The Sun threatened the petition sites with legal action and so the sites were forced to remove the petitions. Never mind The Sun committing slander against Jeremy Corbyn. But Murdoch money talks - the Murdoch empire does as it pleases.

In a week where we have all been devastated by the wicked loss of life, we should all remember the spirit of Manchester.  That must be the legacy.  That even in the face of the unimaginable, good will shine through and win.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

For The Many Not The Few - General Election (Week 5)

So this week we saw the launch of Labour's manifesto to a rapturous applause at Bradford University and what a great progressive one it's turned out to be. Jeremy Corbyn described it as a manifesto 'for the many not the few' and 'a programme of hope not fear'.

In order to put together the manifesto, Labour have consulted with loads of different people including experts, researchers, charities and of course ordinary members.

Just to recap on some of the proposals:

- Higher spending on the NHS (this must surely be one of the most important things to consider when casting your vote - the NHS is not safe in Tory hands and has been consistently underfunded as well as seeing creeping privatisation, especially as a result of the Health & Social Care Act 2012 which removed responsibility for the health of citizens from the Health Secretary and created Clinical Commissioning Groups, partly run by GPs but also private service providers.)

 - Reversal Of Welfare Cuts (this is equally as vital as the above because Labour voted against most if not all of the Welfare changes that have impoverished the lives - and worse - of many long term sick and disabled people since the Coalition in 2010).

 - Building of over a million new homes

 - Renationalization of the railways (when present franchises end), water, and Royal Mail

 - The creation of a National Education Service along the lines of the NHS to include free learning from the cradle to the grave and university fees will be scrapped making 'education a right and not a privilege'. Schools will be properly funded

 - There will be free child care for all 2 year olds

 - Voting age to be reduced to 16

 - A guaranteed triple-lock on pensions

 - A planned rise in Corporation Tax and a levy on firms paying very high salaries (this is a measure to reduce ridiculous inequality within society)

 -  No tax and national insurance rises except for the richest ie raising taxes to 45p for those earning over £80k and 50p for those earning over £123k

 - Scrapping exploitative zero hours contracts

 There were many more things in the manifesto including Brexit negotiations, helping the environment, making the country a more inclusive place and so on.

You will always get the naysayers who say the figures don't add up and the amount of borrowing but consider this: the Tories have borrowed more than all previous Labour parties!

At the launch of the manifesto, many of the media were present to pose questions and here is a flavour of some of Jeremy Corbyn's responses to their questions.

Somebody asked if anything could be done about 'the shockingly biassed media against the Labour Party.'  Jeremy Corbyn said he wanted to ensure there was diversity of all our media and that he thought freedom of speech in a democracy is important.

Then, when a journalist from some right-wing platform, posed a question on immigration he was immediately booed and heckled. But Jeremy Corbyn said 'Please, let's have respect for journalists - I'm a member of the NUJ.' But responding to the question on immigration, he went on to say that immigrants made 'an immense contribution' to our society and 'without immigration in the NHS, most of us would be far worse off in our health'.

Jeremy Corbyn likes to lead by example.  He quite rightly says that 'being strong doesn't mean shouting, dictating and insulting...I don't indulge in personal abuse.'  He just wants to 'debate the issues'.  But it is a sad reflection of affairs when so much of politics is about the 'cult of personality'.

Finally, there have been all those comments about 'taking us back to the 1970s'.  Corbyn's response was a comment in relation to the Conservative plans: 'fox-hunting and grammar schools...that's really forward-looking, isn't it?'

But whenever people make that comment I always say, better the 1970s than turn back the clock 100 years ago which the Tories seem to be doing - when inequality was rife and none of the rights that have been hard-won in the last few decades even existed.  For those of us old enough to remember the 1970s, great changes were made, such as The Sex Discrimination Act and The Race Relations Act which paved the way for a fairer kinder society.

So let us return to a fairer, kinder society.  We have had thirty years of Monetarism and it's failed.  Not everything that went before is bad and should never be revisited.   Let us learn from all that was good that went before. It is time to look back in order to move forward.

If you would like to read the Labour manifesto in full - please follow the link here:



Friday, 12 May 2017

A Picture Tells A Thousand Words (part 1) General Election 2017 (Week 4)

Well, what a week it's been, with the 'leaked' Labour manifesto which backfired! Backfired inasmuch as it will give Jeremy Corbyn double the publicity and double exposure for the manifesto.  But as I've had a bad week in terms of health I thought I would post many of the memes, satire and pictures which I have collected over the past few weeks and months (mainly from Facebook).

Here's just a small selection and they all include a few succinct words, too!

More memes to follow next week!

Friday, 5 May 2017

The 'Strong & Stable' Mantra - General Election 2017 (week 3)

    This week I thought I'd share a poem that came to my attention via 
    Disability Arts Online. It sums up for me the tactics the Tories employ to 
    get their message across. They use soundbites and mantras like a refrain 
    which sink into the public psyche. But they have little substance. 
    This wonderfully satirical poem sums it up perfectly and demonstrates 
    how hollow it all is and deflects from what's really going on. Do not be fooled.

      All Together Now - A poem by Judith Milburn 

      Theresa May has kitten heels 
      And legs like Betty Grable;
      Of COURSE that proves her leadership
      Is really strong and stable!
      Let's wheel on Boris for a laugh
      On Sky, Beeb, Mail or cable.
      His jibes are bound to make us look
      Big and strong and stable.

      Who cares about election fraud -
      Best swept under the table.
      (Just make sure no-one's charged 'til June,
      To keep us strong and stable!)

      Don't dig below the headlines, now,
      Don't question if we're able;
      Just repeat the same old riff:
      'We're very strong and stable!'

      Our strength is putting others down,
      Our sympathy's a fable;
      We bully, harm and isolate -
      And call it 'strong and stable'.

      We hate what we don't understand
      And box it with a label.
      So if you disagree, we'll say
      That you aren't strong and stable.

      Don't be 'foreign', poor, ill, old,
      Raped, unemployed, disabled -
      That doesn't fit with our idea
      Of being strong and stable.

      For God's sake don't be taken in
      By their 'strong and stable' lie;
      Value humanity when you vote -
      Or hope, and people, die.

      Poem shared courtesy of a member of Disability Arts Online