I came across this Department for Work and Pensions guidance manual with good practice on how local authorities should manage Discretionary Housing Payments.… as you do.
I was intrigued by the example case study given in the document on page 26 (FULL DOCUMENT LINK). It says “Mrs Thom is in a wheelchair”, at which point I thought, that must be pretty tough being all tangled up and stuck inside a wheelchair.
Of course that’s not what the DWP meant, but disabled people and disabled people’s organisations have for long looked to discourage terms like living in a wheelchair. People are human beings first and Mrs Thom is someone who uses a wheelchair, so being described as a wheelchair user is far more appropriate than someone in a wheelchair.
The point I’m trying to make is that using the right language is important. It frames what your thoughts are about the people you are talking about. You can end up losing people.
The recent example I have is when we had a deputation from a local business owner on the reduced parking charges that Brent Labour introduced last month. The owner argued for a free parking period for up to 45 minutes and “handicapped” people would struggle with cashless parking. At which point he had lost me and I thought to myself that this person obviously has no regard for disabled people if he’s going around at public meetings describing them as “handicapped” – a phrase that disability organisations have long looked to stop the use of and is considered offensive to disabled people.
Similarly, people are no longer described as being ‘in wheelchairs’ or ‘confined to wheelchairs’ and ‘wheelchair user’ is more appropriate.
It’s sad that this example was found in a Government Department for Work and Pensions document and they should really know better.
I do tend to tweet a lot (follow @Krupesh4Brent!). Now and again, I retweet interesting articles I’ve read on the web. Here are the last 10 [politically relevant] articles I have linked;
Cuts will bleed Council reserves dry in 5 years says Senior Tory – LINK – Brent has traditionally had low levels of reserves. That it is why it is financially important that in an era of increased risks to Brent Council, we keep sufficient reserves to cover those risks.
Disability rights groups protest at DWP against Paralympics sponsor Atos – LINK – Atos is a French IT company that carry out Work Capability Assessments with disabled people. Unfortunately, the Labour Party is not innocent in all of this as we did as award the original contract to Atos, but pressure to attack benefits from the current Government has exacerbated things. The Coalition has gone even further by naming Atos as a main contractor for carrying assessments for disabled people’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP) entitlement. PIP is the benefit that will replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
Mark Ferguson on LabourList on a Lab / Lib Coalition being a non-starter – LINK
Save Central Middlesex Hospital’s A&E – LINK – The Brent Labour Party has provided campaign materials for people to join in on the campaign against the current proposal that will permanently close the A&E Department serving the most deprived part of the Borough.
Fleet Street Fox’s article on tax and cuts to disabled people – LINK
Lib Dem Peer says their Party should consider disposing Nick Clegg – LINK
Retiring Andrew Strauss may bat for the Conservatives at the next election – LINK – after quitting cricket for good, the ex-England captain is being touted as a future Tory MP.
Welsh health survey: One in three take no exercise – LINK – This is an article related to Wales, but it is a trend I am very worried about. The positive effects of regular physical exercise are well documented.
Caught Yellow Handed – LINK – I was reminded last week about this document highlighting Lib Dem Hypocrisy through their actions in Parliament and their leaflets and campaign work in their constituencies. Brent Central Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather has a starring role.
The coalition’s ‘work for dole’ policy suffered a setback at the end of February when they were forced to drop benefit sanctions against young people on the Work Experience scheme. Unemployed 16-24 year olds will still be able to volunteer for placements on this scheme but, crucially, they will be able to leave it without having their Jobseeker’s Allowance cut, as had been happening previously. Despite this victory, however, there are still several other schemes where it is mandatory for the unemployed (and disabled) to work for their benefits and who will lose their benefits unless they do so.
Work Experienceis the coalition’s entry-level scheme for introducing the young unemployed to the world of work (if not to the world of payment for work). It is run by Jobcentre Plus and applies to 16-24 year old JSA claimants who have been unemployed for between three and nine months. Jobcentre Plus advisers arrange the work placements, often in high street stores or supermarkets, and can authorise limited funding to help with travel or childcare. Apart from this, the only ‘pay’ is the claimant’s Jobseeker’s Allowance of £53.45 a week, or £1.78 an hour for a 30 hour week.
The Work Programme applies to JSA claimants aged 18-24 who have been unemployed for nine months or longer and to claimants aged 25 and over who have been unemployed for a year or more. It can also apply to long-term sick and disabled people who are recipients of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but who are viewed as having some capacity for work or who are expected to be fit for work within three months.
Participation in the Work Programme is mandatory for the above claimants and involves being referred by Jobcentre Plus to an outside ‘provider’ who is paid to help claimants get into work. The referral period lasts for two years and during that period involvement in work-related activity (which includes actual work) is mandatory.
Claimants who are required to participate in the Work Programme but fail to do so ‘without good cause’ will incur a benefit penalty. For JSA recipients, this involves a loss of benefit for two weeks for an initial failure, but this can rise to four and 26 weeks for repeated failures. For ESA recipients, the penalty is a benefit reduction of 50% of the value of the ‘work-related activity’ component of ESA for the first four weeks of not taking part (£13.37 a week at 2011/12 rates), followed by a reduction of 100% of the value for each subsequent week (£26.75 a week at 2011/12 rates). This means a loss of up to 28% of benefit for those aged 25 and over and of up to 33% for those aged under 25. Decisions on ‘good cause’ and sanctions will be made by Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision makers, rather than by Work Programme providers, and can be appealed.
Mandatory Work Activity is a compulsory scheme aimed at people ‘who have little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work’ or, in other words, who are not considered to be doing enough to find and keep work. It can apply to anybody who has been unemployed for three months or more but the DWP has admitted that it will mainly affect claimants in the 25-49 age bracket and ethnic minority and disabled claimants.
The scheme gives Jobcentre Plus managers and advisers the authority to instruct selected claimants to participate in work placements for up to 30 hours a week for four weeks. Mandatory Work Activity is delivered by contracted specialist back-to-work providers and can include unpaid work in charities, cleaning companies, government offices and high street chains. Claimants who fail to participate, fail to complete a four week placement or lose a place due to ‘misconduct’ will be sanctioned (lose benefits) for 13 weeks. A second failure will lead to a six month sanction and a third failure could lead to a three year sanction, if welfare reform proposals currently making their way through Parliament are enacted.
When the DWP launched this scheme, they predicted that 10,000 people a year would be referred to it but over 24,000 were referred in its first six months.
The Community Action Programme is a scheme for claimants who have been out of work for two years or longer and which can involve them in having to work for their benefits for 30 hours a week for six months. Limited funding should be available for travel and childcare costs and participants are also offered help with job searching.
The DWP guidance note states that the scheme placements ‘must deliver a contribution to the local community’ and this can mean having to work in charities or other not for profit organisations working in the community. However placements can also be in private companies if some link or benefit to local communities can be shown.
Involvement in the CAP is mandatory and the same draconian benefit sanctions apply to it as apply to the Mandatory Work Activity scheme.
The coalition is planning to pump a massive £5 billion into the above schemes but is hard to see how effective they can be in an economy where unemployment is rising and an average of over five people are chasing every job vacancy. It is also hard to see how effective they can be when there is generally no requirement to provide work training, no limit on the number of placements in particular companies or workplaces and no real monitoring to ensure that employers do not abuse the scheme for their own benefit.
As the TUC’s Brendan Barber said, in relation to the young unemployed: ‘Work experience can be useful and helpful for many young people but it needs to be designed to help the young person, not to provide free labour for employers or to displace paid staff.’ It is also hard to see how schemes can be successful if other action is not being taken to kick-start the economy and get it growing again. As the Right to Work Campaign said: ‘The solution to the jobs crisis is to invest in jobs and training, reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance and scrap tuition fees, so that instead of rotting on the dole queue the million young unemployed can get into employment or education.’
The jury is therefore still out on how effective these schemes will be and, whilst the coalition expects them to help 40% of unemployed participants into work, early indications suggest that the success rate is closer to 20%, and the National Audit Office suggests that 26% is a more likely outcome. And, of course, some participants who find work will have done so under their own steam, rather than as a result of what the schemes have done for them.
Yet there is one area where the schemes have already proven themselves a roaring success and that is in the amount of public money they have pumped into A4e, Avanta, G4S, Igneus, Serco, Working Links and all the other companies which have been taken on to provide back-to-work support to the job seekers referred to them. For example Igneus, an Australian company run by Theresa Reid (wife of ex Aussie PM Kevin Rudd) is already believed to have signed up to contracts worth £727 million. And Emma Harrison’s A4e (which is currently under investigation over alleged fraudulent activities) is believed to have signed up to contracts worth £438 million, which helps explain how Ms Harrison was able to pay herself £8.6 million in dividends in 2010.
The Work Experience and ‘work for dole’ schemes may or may not prove beneficial to jobseekers but there is already no doubt that they will prove a bonanza for the large number of private sector providers contracted to deliver them.
Richard Lynch is a Dudden Hill resident. He is a retired Unite the Union official and currently conducts voluntary work on employment rights for the Brent Community Law Centre. He also acts as an accompanying representative for the GMB union.
Did Britain really become a nation of benefit scroungers under Labour? This is the type of rhetoric that has pointed many to mark their vote in the Tory box on polling day. The reality couldn’t be any more different.
With the Department for Work and Pensions proposing to reassess every individual recipient on incapacity benefits, they have issued a call for evidence. Within the document is a graph displaying the caseload over time from 1978 to 2009.
What the data shows is that the caseload stayed pretty much at the same levels that Labour inherited in 1997. The sharp rises occurred under Tory years from 1986 to 1995.
These rises are not necessarily a bad thing as prior to the increased caseloads, it could have meant that those that should have had extra support to meet their additional needs.
Now, the Tories are proposing a reversal in the changes that occurred under their watch to take the caseload numbers down. My concern is that vulnerable people who need extra support to help them carry out their daily routines will have support withdrawn from them and find themselves struggling to cope with the financial pressures on them and not being able to live their lives with dignity as many didn’t in the early 1980s.