Welfare system failing thousands of its most vulnerable claimants, MPs told

Long waits for payments biggest cause of food bank use, and are forcing people including terminally ill into debt and ‘survival crime’, inquiry evidence says

Britain’s social security system is failing thousands of its most vulnerable claimants, with delays and errors in processing welfare benefits leaving many sick and disabled people, including some with cancer, for months without income.

MPs have been told that long waits for benefit payments are the single biggest cause of food bank use and are forcing claimants into debt and “survival crime” such as shoplifting, as well as triggering stress, mental illness and homelessness.

Charities and local authorities say the millions of pounds they spend providing advice and help to vulnerable individuals left in crisis by avoidable benefit delays is unsustainable, and they cannot “shore up” the system’s failings indefinitely.

The claims are contained in over 60 evidence submissions by frontline charities, food banks, councils, housing associations, private landlords, academics and individuals to a Commons select committee inquiry on benefit delivery which starts on Wednesday.

A Guardian analysis of the evidence reveals:

  • Widespread concern that a key design feature of universal credit, which requires new claimants to wait 42 days before receiving payment, will plunge thousands of families into hardship and debt.
  • Anger from care organisations that claimants with terminal illnesses such as cancer are still subjected to delays to their benefit entitlements, despite government promises to fast-track such applications.
  • Disquiet that official hardship funds are often not offered to vulnerable claimants facing long delays, forcing them to rely on charity help, take out doorstep loans, or go without food and heating.

Nurses turning to food banks and seeking debt advice due to NHS cuts

Nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and pay day lenders after years of public sector pay freezes, a union has warned.

Undervalued nurses are forced to seek advice about debts, bankruptcy and homelessness, according to new figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

More than 1,200 nurses called the union’s member support helpline between January and July, needing advice on welfare, ill-health, disability and other issues.

This included 231 asking for help with debts and bankruptcy.

The figures come as Janet Davies, the union’s new general secretary and chief executive, told the Guardian of anecdotal evidence that nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and payday lenders.

She said years of public sector pay restraint was leaving nurses feeling undervalued and could push some to leave the profession.

The union’s counseling service has also seen a rise in the number of nurses needing help with stress.

Problems filling rotas is also leading to an even greater reliance on expensive agency staff.

Ms Davies said: “These huge agency bills, nurses going to food banks – this is not a great place to be.”

She said more nurses were choosing agency or bank nursing because they could earn more money.

And she said a further pressure on pay was the increasing prevalence of “downbanding”, where a senior nursing post is re-evaluated and downgraded.

Read more here:http://streetskitchen.co.uk/?p=2855


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.

read the rest of this article here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/02/bedroom-tax-cuts-council-tax-support-poor-people


DWP brushing health under the carpet of universal credit

This is from the Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers against Poverty
This letter is being sent to the Prime Minister today 22 June 2015.
Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP 21st June 2015
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1 0AA
Email copy to MPs and Peers
DWP brushing health under the carpet of the Universal Credit.
I wrote to you on the 19th May highlighting the negative impact on the health of the men, women and children in the UK when incomes are set so low, and living costs particularly rent and council tax too high, that debt is inevitable. I raised the impact on health of sanctions, of the chaotic housing market, of council tax enforcement and of the increased risk of low birthweight leading to permanent developmental brain disorder. I noted the lack of a governmental estimate of the cost to the taxpayer of poverty and debt related illness in the NHS and the schools. I cited independent evidence supporting all my concerns.
My letter was sent to the DWP by your office, “so they may reply in detail on the matters you raise”. I replied it should have been sent as well to several other departments whose policies have a negative impact on the health of the employed and unemployed.
The DWP wrote me a long letter to me about the Universal credit. It started with;
“Situations such as you describe highlight the urgent need for reform of the current benefit system. Key to this Government’s reforms is the introduction of Universal Credit. There are two fundamental problems with the current welfare system: poor work incentives and complexity.”
The words “health” or “debt” or “nutrition” or “rent” or “maternal” or “sanctions” do not appear even once in the DWP’s letter to me of the 17th June. It does not cite even one example of independent evidence about the impact on the health of the employed and the unemployed who engage with the current or future systems of social security.
I would be very grateful for an answer to my letter to you of the 19th May that shares the widespread concern for the health and wellbeing of the men, women and children of the UK with the lowest incomes. The impact of government policies on their capacity to buy minimum quantities of food, utilities, clothes, transport and other necessities is damaging their health, education, fitness for work and the wider economy.
I hope too you will commission an independent assessment of the impact on the mental and physical health of men, women and children of benefit cuts, caps and council tax since 2010 and of the Universal Credit.
from the Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Foodbank set up at Newcastle hospital after financial burden facing parents of premature children worsens


Worried parents of premature children fighting for their lives are facing crippling financial costs running into thousands of pounds.

A special North East foodbank has now been set up to help some mums and dads who would otherwise go hungry just so they can afford to visit their poorly children in hospital.

Research has found that parents with a baby in neonatal care in the region spend on average £280 a week.

With the average stay being eight weeks, this results in a total of £2,240. But a significant number of babies will spend considerably longer, up to six months.

Now, a regional charity is funding a paediatric social worker to provide emotional support to parents, advise them on financial issues and helps access funding.

Tiny Lives, the charity which supports the work of the Special Care Baby Unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary is supporting Fiona Ewing

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1.6 million children, living in 920,000 families, are now dealing with council tax debt.

New Children’s Society report illustrates growing Council Tax debt problem

This morning (26th March 2015) the Children’s Society published their new report The Wolf at the Door – How council tax debt collection is harming children’. The report is a much welcome and very timely contribution to the evidence that Council Tax debt is a growing problem.

The report finds that 1.6 million children, living in 920,000 families, are now dealing with council tax debt. This is a growing problem with the number of court summons issued for non-payment rising by a third to almost two million between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Unsurprisingly the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and the introduction of minimum payment Council Tax Support schemes has played a significant role in these rising arrears. A third of families surveyed for the report said the changes to council tax support were a key contributing factor to finding themselves in arrears.

But the report finds that not only are these changes a problem but the way that Council’s enforce debts is making it worse. Just under half of families in debt felt their local council was either not helpful at all or extremely unhelpful when they contacted them to discuss their debt. To make matters worse council’s were also extremely unhelpful when families tried to negotiate a repayment plan, with nearly half saying it was challenging to negotiate or they were unable to negotiate at all.

Read the rest of this report at the Zacchaeus 200 blog here: http://z2k.org/2015/03/new-childrens-society-report-illustrates-growing-council-tax-debt-problem/

People struggling to ‘simply survive’ the bedroom tax, says new study

 Communities are being pulled apart by the bedroom tax as people struggle to ‘survive’ its effects, says a leading academic at Newcastle University.

Dr Suzanne Moffatt says a new study undermines Government claims that implementing the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ in April 2013 would not have a detrimental impact on people’s health and well-being.

Published today in the Journal of Public Health (16 March 2015), the research shows that people affected by the bedroom tax are finding it impossible to manage ever-decreasing incomes, with many spiralling into debt and rent arrears in order to afford bare essentials.

As part of their research, Dr Moffatt’s team also took each of the Government’s suggestions for mitigating the effects of the bedroom tax: downsizing, taking in a lodger, getting a job or increasing working hours – and found them all nearly impossible to achieve.


The North East, where the research was carried out, is disproportionately affected by the ‘under-occupancy tax’ (or ‘bedroom tax’ as it is more commonly known) with some 50,000 households estimated to be ‘under-occupying’.

Social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) reported in January 2014 that 66% of people affected by the bedroom tax were in rent arrears. Residents were finding it increasingly difficult to buy simple, basic foodstuffs and in some extreme cases, cutting down to just one meal a day, or going to bed early to evade hunger and keep warm – a pattern more prevalent among parents to ensure their children were properly fed.

“A few pounds literally made the difference between falling into debt or not,” says Dr Moffatt. “Budgeting advice was offered by service providers but this could not address the underlying problem that many residents simply had insufficient money to meet basic needs.  Monumental effort was put in by people to simply ‘survive’. Their accounts powerfully demonstrate how loss of income as a result of the bedroom tax has a detrimental effect on mental health, with many saying it had left them feeling ‘hopeless’.”

The research paper ‘A qualitative study of the impact of the UK ‘bedroom tax’ looked at the effects on health and well-being; social relationships and the wider community. It followed people living in Walker, Newcastle upon Tyne, which is in the top 10% most deprived areas of the UK. Around 650 households in this study area were affected by the bedroom tax.