Efficiency savings won’t stop tax rises or spending cuts

Flip Chart Fairy Tales

When I posted my 2015 Dilemma diagram just before Christmas, a few people responded by asking, ‘what about efficiency savings’? If we can simply make the public sector more efficient, we can maintain services, keep taxes low-ish and still reduce the deficit, or so the story goes.

The 2015 spending/taxation/borrowing dilemma

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There is little argument about the need for greater efficiency in the public sector. It was to emphasise this point that I started banging on about the UK’s tough spending choices in the first place. For at least the next ten years, even as the economy recovers, the public sector will be under pressure to reduce its costs. Real-terms budget cuts and the drive for greater efficiency will be the defining feature of many public servants’ careers. There are some in the public sector who think the current squeeze is temporary. You still hear people say ‘when this is…

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RIP Tim Salter and Denis Jones. Is This What You Wanted Iain Duncan Smith?

the void

Iain-Duncan-Smith415Ever since this Government weren’t elected the question has been raised whether Iain Duncan Smith really is a murderous tyrant, or whether he’s just a fucking idiot.

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter anymore.  The end result of his policies will be the same whichever is the case.  A result as tragic as it was predictable, as poverty not seen in generations returns to the UK.

The recent case of Tim Salter, who committed suicide after benefits were stopped due to the brutal Atos assessment regime, is far from the first death directly linked to welfare  reforms.  At the end of last month two suicides linked to Atos assessments were reported in just one week. Also reported just before Christmas was the death of Denis Jones, a disabled former soldier who died alone five weeks after his benefits were stopped.  Whilst his death was recorded as natural causes…

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Local councils ”exploiting” back to work scheme to fill roles left empty due to Coalition cuts

Figures show that the majority of the jobseekers are only given work for a few weeks and do not get a permanent job at the end

Councils stand accused of “exploiting” the Government’s controversial back to work scheme to employ staff on the cheap. Town halls are increasingly taking on workers under the workfare programme to fill roles left empty because of cuts.

But figures show that the majority of the jobseekers are only given work for a few weeks and do not get a permanent job at the end.

The mandatory work activity scheme forces jobseekers to take up unpaid placements for up to four weeks. Anyone who fails to participate can lose their benefits for 13 weeks.

The scheme has been branded a “disgrace” as participants only receive their benefits – meaning they get paid as little as £1.78 a hour for a full time job.

Since the scheme was introduced in June 2011 nearly 1,929 people have taken on by 167 councils under the work experience or mandatory work activity programmes. But only 138 of these were given a permanent job at the end of their placements. Bexley Council in South London took on 71 placements. Many of these were in the library service where the council had shed 35 permanent posts.

Northumberland County Council took on 44 placements under the mandatory work activity programme but the campaign group Boycott Workfare claims not one received a job at the end of their placement.

In Wales, Newport City Council took on 112 placements under the Work Experience scheme and the Work Programme but only 12 were given jobs in the council. The disclosure comes as Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed many jobseekers lacked the “motivation” to find work.

Announcing a new crackdown, Mr Duncan Smith accused claimants of making a “lifestyle” choice to live on benefits. “People who have been out of work for several years or those who are lacking motivation will be required to spend up to six months looking for an applying for jobs in return for their benefits,” he said.

Joanna Long of Boycott Workfare said: “It is a disgrace that councils are making people work for no pay. They are exploiting local people to fill the gaps left by government cuts to public services.

“Workfare is bad news for people in paid work whose jobs it’s replacing. It is terrible news for the people forced onto the schemes who can face benefit stoppages, hunger and homelessness. Research shows workfare doesn’t help people find work. People across the country are taking action to stop Osborne’s new six month workfare scheme from launching in April. Forced unpaid work cannot become the norm in the UK.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “This scheme provides jobseekers with vital workplace skills and experience – especially if they’ve never worked before – to help them find permanent jobs.

“Claimants are expected to complete placements which are of benefit to the community, including helping charities. It is only right that people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance take part in programmes to improve their skills.”

Ministers scrap £20m scheme to keep elderly warm

Ministers ‘shameful’ for scrapping £20m scheme to keep pensioners warm

Ministers have been accused of “shameful” behaviour after quietly scrapping a scheme to help vulnerable elderly people keep warm – just weeks before its own review found it was universally popular.

For the past two winters, councils have been allocated £20 million to provide emergency boiler repairs, hot meals to frail pensioners leaving hospital, snow-clearing and advice about pay fuel bills.

In October a Government report acclaimed the scheme – which helps up to 200,000 people a year, mostly elderly – as a “universally popular” way to provide help to those in crisis.But by then, funding for the scheme had already been stopped, a parliamentary answer has disclosed.

Public health experts said it was “appalling” that the Warm Homes, Healthy People fund had been axed, after the coldest winter for 50 years and amid fears that the NHS is struggling to cope.

Prof John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “It is shameful to be scrapping this scheme when we know this country has such a huge problem with winter deaths.”He said the funds involved were “peanuts” but that it made no sense to pull money from a scheme which had demonstrated its success and popularity.Prof Ashton said: “Given all the fears about an NHS winter crisis, and the recent figures on winter deaths, it seems crazy not to concentrate efforts on ensuring warm homes for the elderly. We know that in the week after every cold snap we see a surge in deaths, and that shouldn’t be inevitable.”

Age UK said the scheme had proved an “extremely necessary resource” which helped thousands of at risk pensioners last year.

Mervyn Kohler, special advisor to the charity, said: “This was a really good scheme that made a really practical difference to people – providing emergency food and survival packs, checking people were getting the help to which they were entitled.

“This was about providing help to people who are cold, frail and worried. It is really perverse to take it away when the evaluation made clear just how successful it was.”

The evaluation of the scheme, published in October by Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health, said: “In line with findings from the previous evaluation, the Warm Homes, Healthy People scheme continues to be universally popular. Local authorities and their partners used innovative ways to try to reduce excess winter morbidity and mortality in line with the Cold Weather Plan for England.”

Read the rest of this article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10530467/Ministers-scrap-20m-scheme-to-keep-elderly-warm.html

by Laura Donnelly in ‘The Telegraph’ 25th Dec 2013

A cold, hungry Christmas for tens of thousands of British Citizens

Today the UK news services are reporting on the plight of 12,000 people left without electricity over Christmas because of the damage to electricity pylons caused by the recent big storms and high winds.

Unreported in today’s news the far larger number of households without electricity, gas or food because of deliberate government policy compounded by administrative error in the Department of Work and Pensions.

The DWP announced over Xmas that 32,000 people would not receive their benefits as expected before Christmas because of an administrative error. Many of those 32,000 people have households to feed, so there are far more than 32,000 people affected by this. Many were already on the edge of extreme poverty.

Then there’s the people whose benefits have been ‘sanctioned’ by the DWP as a result of Government directives. Sanctions mean that all benefit moneys are removed for a period of at least 4 weeks, rising to 3 years. People being sanctioned are amongst the most vulnerable in the country, with the mentally ill, the disabled, and those with poor English skills being disproportionately affected.

The government has admitted that half a million people were sanctioned last year, so there must be tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of unemployed, sick and disabled people that have not been in work or receiving benefits over this christmas period. Many of these people have children, equally affected.

Add to these those people who have been misidentified as fit to work by the massively flawed ‘Work Capability Assessment’ system, and lost their sickness benefits. Since October, people who disagree with the results of their assessments and appeal are receiving NO MONEY AT ALL in sickness benefits, and are being told to sign on at the Job Centre for Unemployment benefit (JSA), whilst the DWP reconsiders their case. If people are too sick to work, they do not qualify for JSA, and many have been left with no income at all for an indefinite period. News of the first suicides and deaths are beginning to trickle through.

So 12,000 people are without electricity due to flooding over Xmas and this is news, the prime minister goes to visit flooded areas, investigations are promised.

Over 50,000 households are without electricity, gas or food over the same period due to government policies and errors, and it’s not even mentioned.

Here’s some of the comments that have been making their way to my facebook feed today, Friday 27th December.



“Can u help plz i was due my esa today and nothing in my bank and have no food or electric anymore i live in southend”

“Dwp are closed till Monday. Iv had the same thing and tried ringing them”

” i got £20 to last me until thursday 9th and i have a 2 year old son”

“My son had no money at all for 4 weeks now, first 2 they sanctioned him for something, last 2…we have no idea he just received nothing”

“We’ve got no money, the DWP error has affected us. The gas and electric is about to run out and we have very little food. It’s friday afternoon, is there anyone we can contact or ring to help us? We don’t have enough food for three days.”

“Hello there I live in London and currently claim the assessment rate of ESA (disability benefit) I was due payment wed 25th but obviously with that being Xmas day my payment should of gone in Xmas eve. However today is 27th and still no payment I have no gas of electric not to mention food is there no emergency number to call them on if I have to wait till Monday well il prob die by then”

“My money of jsa has not gone in today what do I do as job centre is shut”

“No one is at dwp today im in the same boat and tried calling. They are closed till Monday”

” I’m in receipt of JSA and was due to be payed today. With it being Christmas I was told that I’d be signed on automatically and that my payment would go in as normal, it hasn’t. I wouldn’t be bothered normally, but it’s been almost a month since I’ve had any money…. Just wondering if there’s anything I can do as everywhere is closed for Christmasm”

Funds cut for mental health trusts in England

Mental health trusts In England have had their funding cut by more than 2% in real terms over the past two years, figures show.


The BBC received data from 43 out of 51 mental health trusts following a Freedom of Information request.


The coalition has guaranteed the NHS budget will rise by 0.1% in real terms over the course of this parliament. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that mental health services are near breaking point. Separate data for the same period shows referrals to crisis and community mental health teams have risen by 16%.


Care & Support Minister, Norman Lamb said: “It is completely unacceptable for local commissioners to disadvantage mental health in the allocation of funds to local health services. This completely conflicts with the government’s clear position that there must be parity of esteem – equality – between mental and physical health. This must be a priority for NHS England to address.”


The revelations come just weeks after one of the country’s leading psychiatrists told BBC News that mental health services are unsafe and in crisis.


Comparing the total 2011/12 budgets with that for this year, 2013/14, there was a reduction of 2.36% in real terms. Of the 13 trusts that were able to provide indicative budgets for next year, 2014/15, 10 are expecting more cuts.


Prof Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Even small cuts at this time can have a disproportionately large effect on the welfare of our patients. The services are stretched to their limit and if they stretch any further, the elastic band is going to snap.”


Dr Martin McShane, from NHS England, said: “If you look at the figures, mental health trusts have taken more work on, they’re more productive, they’re delivering better value for the NHS. There are other parts of the system that are delivering services that might have been delivered by mental health trusts, such as psychological therapies.”


Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind said the ultimate consequence of the cuts would be that people do not get the help they need in crisis.


That is certainly the experience of Emma Bardney, who has a complex post traumatic stress disorder, but says she’s been failed by her mental health trust.


“Its been really tough… fighting for the right to get better,” said the 42 year old paramedic. There’s been no community mental health support available to me. So my care plan has been sporadic out-patients with a consultant or crisis support and nothing in-between and the only way you can access support is when you are in crisis. So you have to get to a very low point before you get any type of support or help.”

The pressure on crisis and community health services is highlighted by information provided to the online journal Community Care. Using data provided under a separate Freedom of Information request, they found that:


  • Budgets for ‘crisis resolution teams’ fell by 1.7% in real terms compared to 2011/12. Referrals rose 16%. These are the staff who provide intensive home treatment in an effort to prevent acutely unwell people being admitted to hospital.
  • Budgets for community mental health teams shrunk by 0.03% in real terms since 2011/12 but referrals have risen 13%. These teams give ongoing support to patients to prevent their health deteriorating to crisis point.


“Mind hears all the time from people who have lost the community health care that was helping them to cope and who now find themselves unable to get through to their local crisis team,” said Paul Farmer.”They feel ‘fobbed off’ when they do, because there simply aren’t enough staff to cope with the numbers of people in desperate need of help.”


An analysis of the board papers of mental health trusts and reports from the Care Quality Commission shows the problems in the system:


  • Patients in Cornwall receiving dismissive advice, with one being told “I am the only one working, don’t kill yourself on my shift”.
  • Community health teams in Bradford complaining of “unmanageably high caseloads”.
  • Patients in need of an urgent assessment in Barnet, north London, not being seen for five weeks.
  • Crisis teams in Kent spending as little as 10 minutes with patients. Mental health services in England are facing budget cuts despite the government’s promise to protect health spending.

From the BBC News, 12th Dec 2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25331644

Disabled Kinver man killed himself after being left “almost destitute” when his state benefits were axed

A DISABLED Kinver man killed himself after his state benefits were stopped, leaving him “almost destitute” – a coroner has ruled.

Tim Salter, aged 53, who was partially sighted and suffered from mental health problems, was found hanged at his home just days before he was due to be evicted over rent arrears.

His heartbroken family say he fell behind with payments after the Government axed his state benefits – having declared him fit for work under a new regime geared at getting the long-term unemployed off the dole. Mr Salter’s devastated sister Linda Cooksey said: “It just sent him over the edge.  He must have felt so worthless and that life wasn’t worth living.”

Mr Salter, of Meddins Lane, had been registered partially blind since 1994 after an overdose in 1989 damaged his vision. Previously he’d worked as an assistant sales manager at Owen Owen in Stourbridge in the 80s but he failed to find further employment after leaving. Depression and the suicide attempt followed, after which he never worked again.

Mrs Cooksey, aged 60, said her brother, who was agoraphobic, “never asked for help” and she never imagined changes to the country’s benefits system would affect him. Relatives only pieced together his dire predicament after discovering a repossession order from South Staffordshire Housing Association in the bin. Dated September 17 – it had given Mr Salter ten days to leave the home he had lived in all his life.

He committed suicide on September 25, two days before the eviction date.

As his financial situation became apparent relatives presented paperwork to Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh and at an inquest on December 3 he concluded: “A major factor in his death was that his state benefits had been greatly reduced leaving him almost destitute and with threatened repossession of his home.”

Mr Salter’s family has since written to the Prime Minister and South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson over his death.

From the Stourbridge News, 26th Dec 2013. Read the rest of this article here: http://www.stourbridgenews.co.uk/news/10892787.Disabled_Kinver_man_killed_himself_after_being_left__almost_destitute__when_his_state_benefits_were_axed/

‘Scaremongering’, Iain? Isn’t that more your line of work?

Mike Sivier's blog

Iain Duncan Smith needs to think before making unwise statements.

He was in the headlines over the weekend after he accused food bank charity The Trussell Trust of “scaremongering” in order to get publicity for its work.

Refusing to meet representatives of the trust – thereby reneging (in advance!) on a promise we all heard during the food bank debate in Parliament last week – he stated in a letter written during November that the increased poverty forcing people to seek food bank aid was not linked to his regressive changes in the social security system, and that the charity was using this claim to get publicity for itself.

Quoted in The Observer, his letter began by criticising the “political messaging of your organisation”, which “despite claiming to be nonpartisan” had “repeatedly sought to link the growth in your network to welfare reform”.

He went on to reject suggestions that the…

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