Thought the bedroom tax was bad? Let’s talk about cuts to council tax support

More than 2.3 million families have lost their council tax support

After fleeing domestic violence, Eve found a new job and a home for her three children. The youngest was two years old. The pay wasn’t great, as so many families find now, but the situation drastically worsened when her council tax support was cut after April 2013. Eve became one of millions suddenly liable for council tax payments, when previously she would have been exempt due to poverty. Once you miss a payment, within 14 days you can find yourself in court, as Eve did, with a fifth of her income confiscated each month. Then the bailiffs arrived. In a rented, furnished flat, there was nothing to take, but the visits made her contemplate suicide.

Much attention has been paid to the bedroom tax, but remarkably little to changes in council tax. Often they affect the same people: 380,000 have been caught by the bedroom tax and 270,000 by both the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax support. But the scope of the cuts to council tax support are extreme: more than 2.3 million families have lost out, and in the first six months of the policy, almost half a million people were issued court summons for arrears.

And as of yesterday, 250,000 low-income families will see their council tax payments increase substantially because they live in one of the 27 areas that are raising or introducing the minimum payment. Families are expected to pay between 5% and 30% of their total council tax liability – what sounds like a small sum cuts drastically into the day-to-day budgets of people already in entrenched poverty. One woman I spoke to only drank cold water and ate sandwiches rather than spend money making tea or cooking food.

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Cameron’s stealth cut to disability benefits is obscene – says the Telegraph

Axing the Independent Living Fund without a plausible alternative will hurt vulnerable people while saving very little money

“The test of a good society,” David Cameron said before the 2010 general election, was whether “you look after the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest”.

That test, he admitted, “is even more difficult in difficult times, when difficult decisions have to be taken.”

We are certainly living in difficult times, with plenty of difficult decisions to be made about Government spending. But while many of the welfare reforms have been popular with voters on all sides of the political divide, there is now a big question whether the latest decision passes the Prime Minister’s own personal “test of a good society”.

Today sees the end of the Independent Living Fund, a little-known benefit that affects only 18,000 people across the nation and costs taxpayers £320m a year.

The fund, started 30 years ago, makes payments of, typically, £450 to £500 a week to people with severe disabilities to enable them to live more independent lives. It funds the cost of carers and personal assistants to provide daily help with their everyday needs, even allowing some recipients to go out to work.

Yet, in these “difficult times”, the ILF will cease to exist at midnight tonight. Disability campaigners, who have fought hard against its end, say this will be catastrophic for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Their worries have been brushed aside by the Government as “scaremongering”. This is, Ministers insist, a mere administrative change that won’t leave anyone out of pocket. From tomorrow all the funds will simply be transferred to local councils for them to manage.

So why is this such a test of Mr Cameron’s good society? The answer is, as always, in the small print.

Yes, the fund’s cash is being transferred to local councils from tonight but, with just hours to go, those councils have not yet been told exactly how much money they will each get.

In addition to that, the money – which will come from the Department for Communities and Local Government rather than the Department for Work and Pensions – will not be legally ringfenced for the severely disabled. Indeed, only one third of councils have so far committed to spending the money as intended rather than simply adding the cash to their general budget.

And, given that the social care for the elderly provided by many cash-strapped councils is already scandalously poor, with carers able to spend only minutes with frail and vulnerable pensioners, we can hardly hold out much hope that the care given to the severely disabled will meet anything but their most basic needs.

Finally, to add insult to injury, the central Government funding is guaranteed for only another nine months. After that, who knows? The disabled recipients and their carers will have to wait for the next spending review to find out what their future holds.

read the rest of this story here:

Half a million more children in ‘absolute poverty’ since David Cameron became Prime Minister

Half a million more children have plunged into “absolute poverty” since David Cameron became Prime Minister, figures showed.

More than four million youngsters now live below the breadline, the Department for Work and Pensions revealed.

And the number of pensioners living in poverty increased by 100,000 in a year, statistics revealed.

Families are braced for a fresh £12billion Tory raid on the welfare fund, with the fresh assault due to be unveiled in just 12 days.

But stats revealed 4.1million children are in “absolute low income” when housing costs are counted.

Kids in absolute poverty live in homes where income is less than 60% of the 2010-11 average, adjusted for inflation.

Number crunchers said 3.6million children were in absolute poverty in 2009-10, the last full year of a Labour government.

But as rent costs have soared and benefit cuts bite, the figure has climbed by 14% – and efforts to cut the number of children in relatively poverty have stalled under the Conservatives.

A total of 2.3million children – almost one in six – were in households where income is less than 60% of current average income – the same as 12 months earlier.

It means the Conservatives are set to miss a key target to abolish child poverty by 2020.

Facing psychological coercion and manipulation has become a daily part of claiming benefits

Politics and Insights

Authors: Felicity Callard and Robert Stearn. Republished here with thanks.

Curing unemployment is a growth market for psychologists. Job Centres are becoming medical centres, claimants are becoming patients, and unemployment is being redefined as a psychological disorder.

Made-up ailments such as “psychological resistance to work” and “entrenched worklessness” feature in ministerial speeches and lucrative Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contracts, without attracting a murmur of protest from professional psychologists.

Psychological explanations for unemployment – the failings of the maladjusted jobseeker – isolate, blame, and stigmatise unemployed people. They reinforce myths about “cultures of worklessness”; they obscure the realities of the UK labour market and the political choices that underpin it. The same is true of psychological prescriptions for treating unemployment.


People claiming benefits are already subject to psycho-interventions through mandatory courses designed to promote “employability” and “job readiness”. And as we show in a new…

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DWP failed to consider welfare reform risks, says spending watchdog

Report by the National Audit Office says Department for Work and Pensions must get better at spotting potential problems with big schemes

The Department for Work and Pensions struggled to identify potential pitfalls before trying to make major changes to the welfare system, the public spending watchdog has concluded.

A report by the National Audit Office, published this morning, finds that while DWP has dealt with an “unprecented number of major programmes and reforms” since 2010, it has sometimes failed to spot risks or think about how best to measure performance.

The department has cut its administrative and programme spending by 18% since 2010, with staffing levels down 23% on 2011 levels. In spite of those cuts, the NAO points out that DWP has “introduced many reforms without significant operational problems”, and says it “deserves credit” for doing so at a time of major organisational change.

However, the watchdog says DWP has “relied too heavily on uncertain and insufficiently challenged assumptions” when introducing changes, and warns that it must be more prepared “for the possibility of failure” in future schemes.

“The department has thought too late about the management information and leading indicators it needs to monitor progress and performance,” the NAO’s report says. “The department should consider information requirements when designing how programmes will work. It has not always developed or interpreted leading indicators for major risks within programmes.”

The NAO points out that it took DWP “several weeks” to spot a backlog of claims for Personal Independence Payment, the replacement for the Disability Living Allowance benefit that provides help to meet the extra costs of being disabled.

It says the department initially made overly “optimistic assumptions” about the assessment process for claimants, and “did not leave enough time to review performance” before extending the availability of PIP.

“The challenge for the department is not to avoid ambitious targets and introduce all programmes slowly, but it should have an appropriate assessment of the risks that timetable decisions create and be explicit on the trade-offs resulting from decisions to change timetables,” the NAO says.

“The department introduced Personal Independence Payment quickly, partly to achieve projected savings to benefit spending. This limited the time available to engage with stakeholders and test assumptions. Even where the department slows down implementation to reduce operational risks, the impact of these decisions needs to be evidence-based and transparent.”

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UK Has 4th Highest Child Mortality And Lowest Funded Health Care In The Western World

Too many British children die compared to other developed nations and researchers want to know if the reason is relative poverty or low health care funding.

Through data analysis, a research team from Bournemouth University was able to compare the UK to other Western countries and found that the UK has the fourth highest child mortality rate, the third worst relative poverty and lowest funded health care. The upside is its free.

When it comes to the proportion of GDP (gross domestic product) that each country spends on health, between 1980 and 2008 the UK averaged joint lowest. Poorer countries such as Greece and Portugal spend more of their GDP on health than Britain, though to be fair those countries are spending France and Germany’s money to do so and the UK is not.

Child mortality across the west has gotten much better. Child mortality in the UK may seem high but it has fallen 42% over past 20 years. Still, the average fall of the other 20 Western countries measured is 50%, suggesting the UK’s child mortality rate is dropping at a slower rate compared to its Western contemporaries.

Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University, who led the research, used Portugal as a comparison again, “If we had the Portuguese rate there would be 1,827 fewer deaths in children aged 0-14 in the UK per year. We also examined child mortality rates in the context of relative poverty, measured by income inequality, which is the gap between the top and bottom 20% of incomes. Whilst the USA tops the league, the UK had the third worst relative poverty and poverty has long been linked to worst health outcomes.”

It can’t simply be National Health Service funding, since Britain had the fourth biggest reduction in adult deaths amongst Western countries.

“So the question is, if we are doing well in reducing adult mortality, are British children disadvantaged because of relative poverty and proportionately low funded health care? The answer appears to be yes and there is worrying evidence that UK income inequalities are widening.”

Disabled workers forced to take unfit jobs

Insecurity of zero-hours contracts and workplace cuts increase the ill-health of people with a disability, a new study shows

Sarah Dean is not the image of a disabled person in work the government wants you to see. The 26-year-old has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Unable to cope with the anxiety of going through the “fit for work” tests in order to apply for employment and support allowance, the disability out-of-work benefit, Dean is surviving on zero-hours contracts. ESA would have given her either a higher rate of benefit to live on (compared with jobseeker’s allowance) or support (albeit poor) to find a job more suitable to her health needs. But as a JSA recipient, Dean is not classed as “disabled”, as ESA claimants are, and so has to take pretty much any job going.

Dean has had four different contracts in as many years, working as a shop assistant at various tourist venues, on- call for a shift any, and every, day. What makes an insecure job difficult for workers generally can make it debilitating for someone with a disability or health condition, and Dean tells me both her ADHD and OCD have worsened, to the extent she now needs specialist ADHD therapy.

“It’s been constant pressure: pressure to take whatever hours I could, stress wondering if I could afford the bills,” she says. “No adjustments were made [for me] despite quoting the Disability [Discrimination] Act till I’m pink in the face.

“The ethos is, ‘humans are cheap. If they’re different, use them till they break, then replace,’” she adds. “It turns you into a complete wreck.”

Dean’s is one of close on 150 experiences of disabled workers catalogued in a study by the Public Interest Research Unit (PIRU) for the campaign group, Disabled People Against Cuts. The government rhetoric about disability over the past five years has effectively created two mythical figures: the lazy, work-shy disabled person, milking the state for benefits, and the hardworking disabled person, able to take any job with little or no support. But the PIRU research gives a voice to the hidden reality: from the strain on disabled people forced to take unsuitable work, to discrimination or abuse by colleagues and employers.

 “The attitude to disabled workers has hardened in the last few years,” says Claire Hudson, a public sector worker in her early 30s. Hudson has a neurological condition that means she struggles to pick up new skills without the right support but, regardless, has been expected by her employers to take on additional work after other departments had cuts. She has applied to reduce her hours but says her employer “is not making it easy”.

Taking time off because of her disability has been met with resentment. “When I returned to work in my current job I was treated quite badly by colleagues who felt I shouldn’t have any ‘special treatment’,” she says. “Months on, it’s not much better.”

This sense that “disabled scrounger” narratives are permeating the workplace was a common theme in PIRU’s research, with disabled workers reporting they were increasingly regarded as “a burden”, “alien”, “lazy”, or exaggerating their condition. One local authority worker, with a disability that affects his ability to walk, said his boss tried to make him move “to a building with stairs and no lift”.

It was a fear of being seen as “trouble” – and the insecurity of a zero-hours contract – that meant Dean originally didn’t disclose her ADHD or OCD to her last employer. Her fears were justified: when Dean did explain her disability to her boss and asked for stable hours “to help [her] cope”, her hours were reduced to nothing, in effect, forcing her to leave. “Now I’m about to sign on for the third time in a year,” she says.

As another respondent to the study put it: “I always try to hide my disability from prospective employers. If it became known, I never got the job.”

The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, confidently claimed this month that the Conservatives have got “thousands more disabled people into work” but look a little closer, and the government is cutting Access to Work, the fund that helps make that possible. Work Programme figures show just 8.7% of new ESA claimants put on to the flagship back-to-work scheme in March last year had a “job outcome” a year later.


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DWP blames cancer patient for her illness

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the UK today!)

This letter from the Department for Work and Pensions was posted by Chris Nelson on Facebook (click to enlarge):

ewing's sarcoma

According to this letter, the DWP is clearly placing the ‘blame’ for having cancer on the patient herself.

Has the demonisation of welfare claimants in the UK got to the point where we’re blaming cancer patients for their own illnesses now?


Related articles by Tom Pride:

Mother’s plea for son who lost benefits after missing signing on because of cancer operationp

The government has finally done something so outrageous even I can’t be bothered to satirise it

Throat cancer victim – “this is not the England they fought and died for!”

Let’s be clear – Tory and Lib Dem MPs have decided terminally ill patients should work or starve

Don’t turn your back. Because you’re going to be disabled too one day.

ATOS assessor found blind woman fit…

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