Charities condemn Iain Duncan Smith for food bank snub

Requests for meetings with work and pensions secretary to discuss growing crisis have been refused

Iain Duncan Smith, the embattled work and pensions secretary, is refusing to meet leaders of the rapidly expanding Christian charity that has set up more than 400 food banks across the UK, claiming it is “scaremongering” and has a clear political agenda.

The news will fuel a growing row over food poverty, as church leaders and the Labour party accuse ministers of failing to recognise the growing crisis hitting hundreds of thousands of families whose incomes are being squeezed, while food prices soar.

Responding to requests for a meeting from Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which has provided food supplies to more than 500,000 people since April, Duncan Smith has dismissed claims that the problems are linked to welfare reforms and attacked the charity for publicity-seeking. In his most recent response on 22 November, Duncan Smith made clear that he had received enough letters from the trust and referred Mould to his previous answers. His deputy, Lord Freud, the minister for welfare reform, also explicitly rejected an invitation for talks on 30 August, telling the trust’s chairman that he was “unable to take up your offer of a meeting”.

Mould, whose organisation is struggling to keep up with ever-increasing demand for its services, said that he and his army of volunteers could not understand why ministers were refusing to listen to their suggestions for easing the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need.

“To them, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to me either. We are deeply disappointed, but we are as open as ever to meet ministers in the hope that perhaps the new year will bring a fresh approach to what could so easily have been a fruitful dialogue.” Mould also told Duncan Smith he is not opposed, for political reasons, to welfare reform.

In 2010, the Trussell Trust provided food to around 41,000 people, but in the past eight months the number has increased to more than half a million, a third of whom are children.

Mould first wrote to Duncan Smith in June, saying that many of the problems people were facing could be tracked back to changes in their benefits, and to delays in the payment of them.

Duncan Smith began his reply 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 said his department’s record in processing benefit claims had improved and should do so further with the introduction of universal credit.

He rejected any suggestion that the government was to blame. “I strongly refute this claim and would politely ask you to stop scaremongering in this way. I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I’m concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear.”

The standoff will further anger church leaders who were incensed by reports last week that the government had turned down a potential pot of £22m of EU funding for food banks, on the grounds that the UK did not want to be told by Brussels how to spend money for European structural funds.

Last week, in a Commons debate on food poverty, Conservative MPs recognised the gravity of the situation. Steve Baker, the Tory MP for Wycombe, said it was a “scandalous indictment of the safety net that is the welfare state” that so many people could be left hungry. “Some 12,000 children in Buckinghamshire live in income poverty and one in five children in Wycombe go to bed hungry – that increases to one in three in some parts of my constituency,” he said.

The shadow secretary of state, Rachel Reeves, said: “Iain Duncan Smith should meet with the Trussell Trust and others who are on the frontline of dealing with the growing problem of food poverty in Britain, rather than burying his head in the sand.

“It’s David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith’s failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis which has led to half a million people relying on food banks since April this year.

“Under the Tories, it’s tax cuts for the rich and food banks for the poor. Only a Labour government would act to freeze energy prices, help more employers to pay a living wage, and expand free childcare to help more parents earn a living for their family.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “The benefits system supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed and there is no robust evidence that welfare reforms are linked to increased use of food banks. In fact, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families … with the universal credit making 3m households better off – the majority of these from the bottom two-fifths of the income scale.

“The Trussell Trust itself says it is opening three new food banks every week, so it’s not surprising more people are using them. They also agree that awareness has helped to explain their recent growth.

“The government has taken action to help families with the cost of living, including increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000 which will save a typical taxpayer over £700, freezing council tax for five years and freezing fuel duty.”

Meanwhile, the number of households living in bed and breakfast accommodation has increased by 124% since 2010, according to figures compiled by Labour from official statistics.

The statistics show that illegal use of B&B accommodation, where families are staying longer than six weeks, has risen by 800%.


by Toby Helm in ‘The Observer’ 21st Dec 2013:


Victory for welfare campaigners as DWP loses appeal against work capability assessment ruling

The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling which found that the process used to decide whether hundreds of thousands of people are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) disadvantages people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.

The original judgment, which was made public at an Upper Tribunal hearing in May this year, was the result of a Judicial Review brought by two anonymous claimants with mental health problems.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) immediately appealed against the judgment and the Judicial Review was put on hold. Now that the DWP has lost their appeal, the Judicial Review will continue. A final judgment is expected next year unless the DWP decide to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The charities Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society intervened in the case to provide evidence based on the experiences of their members and supporters.

The case centres on how evidence is gathered for the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the process used to determine whether someone is fit for work.

Under the current system, evidence from a professional such as a GP or social worker is expected to be provided by claimants themselves. There is no obligation for the DWP to collect this evidence, even on behalf of the most vulnerable, apart from in some rare cases.

Gathering evidence can be very challenging for people with mental health problems, learning disabilities or autism whose health or condition can make it hard for them to understand or navigate the complex processes involved in being assessed.

As a result, those who need support the most are frequently being assessed without this important evidence being taken into account.

In May it was ruled that the DWP must do more to ensure this sort of evidence is collected and taken into account. This means the current procedure for the WCA puts some groups at a substantial disadvantage.

In a joint statement Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society said:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for welfare campaigners and marks an important step in our fight for a fairer benefits system.

“The judges in the original ruling independently confirmed what our members and supporters have been saying for years – the system is unfair for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and is failing the very people it is meant to be supporting.

“It’s fantastic that the Court of Appeal has upheld this judgment and we hope changes will be made quickly to ensure the system becomes fairer and more accurate.

“In light of today’s ruling it would be irresponsible for the DWP to carry on using these flawed assessments as they are. They must halt the mass reassessment of people receiving incapacity benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.

“We hope that the DWP will now take these concerns seriously and look to address the problems with the system rather than appealing again.”  

Rethink Mental Illness

From the Black Triangle Campaign, 4th Dec 2013:

Universal credit has already cost £450 million

Universal credit has already cost the taxpayer £425 million, with industry insiders predicting that much of this will have to be written off because the IT project has been so poorly administered and led. The entire scheme has been judged to be ‘in crisis’ by the treasury. The National Audit Office has recently reported  that millions of IT costs have ALREADY been written off.

The scheme was due to be implemented in October 2013, but so far has only been implemented in a handful of test areas. Early reports back from these say that the system is too complicated for over half of claimants to understand without additional support, and that because of inadequacies in the system everything has to be checked by hand. Users report that the system is not able to track any change in circumstances of the claimants, not much use for people in and out of short term work, or on variable or zero hours contracts.

Yet Department for Work and Pensions has reiterated that the system will be delivered ‘on time and within budget.’

Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, said: “We are introducing Universal Credit in a slow, safe and controlled way. This careful approach is working well and we’re in a strong position as we bring Universal Credit to Inverness and Rugby for the first time. Most people are claiming it online, the IT is working and comprehensive support is in place.”

In the first pilot area in which the scheme was rolled out, Ashton Under Lyme, it was reported that “78% of claimants needed help filling in the forms for relatively straightforward claims. The pilot schemes are not even attempting to deal with people with complex personal circumstances.”  And if Universal credit was on time, it would have been rolled out nationwide as scheduled in October 2013.

I’m not sure who the Government thinks it is fooling, except perhaps themselves.




Iain Duncan Smith ‘targeting seriously ill claimants’ in benefits overhaul

Nearly 550,000 people currently considered too sick to work face losing financial support if radical changes go ahead

The fate of nearly 550,000 benefit claimants currently deemed unfit for work due to serious illnesses such as cancer is in the balance as it emerged that Iain Duncan Smith is planning a radical change to the welfare system.

The work and pensions secretary is pushing to scrap a part of the benefits system that helps sufferers of recent illnesses get back into employment. These individuals are covered by the term “work-related activity group” (WRAG) and are regarded as being capable of work in the future. They are paid benefits if they carry out training or practice interviews.

However, the Observer understands that Duncan Smith wants to disband the group, currently made up of 546,770 people. Such a move would require an overhaul of the whole benefits system, say experts. The cabinet minister is said to be concerned that only half of claimants in WRAG are coming off benefit within three years, and that hundreds of millions of pounds are being tied up in administration of the benefit, including the work capability assessments and appeals process.

Anne Begg MP, the Labour chairwoman of the cross-party work and pensions select committee, said her fear was that the vulnerable people in that group would be forced to join the dole queue and be at the mercy of the sanction system, under which claimants lose benefits if they do not attend enough interviews or make efforts to find a job.

She said: “My concern is that, if he gets rid of the WRAG group and says all these people are fit to work, that will turn them into job support allowance claimants. Then we have all these people who they are wasting money on trying to get into work, who are realistically never going to get into work and whose condition will be made worse. I have two constituents who are psychiatric nurses who have just been telling me about the damage done to people who are ill and incapable and forced to attend job centres.”

Begg said she would raise the issue with the minister for disabled people, Mike Penning, when he is due to come before the committee on 11 December.

Stephen Timms, a former Labour welfare reform minister and now shadow minister for employment, said scrapping the WRAG would require “a radical change” to the system on top of a whole series of reforms being pursued by the government.

A Whitehall source said Duncan Smith was championing the major change ahead of the impending publication of the national disability employment strategy. He added that the change was being opposed by the new employment minister, Esther McVey, although a source close to the minister insisted that “any talk of a rift between the minister and the secretary of state is complete nonsense”.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “We’re continually looking to improve the system and all sorts of ideas are considered, some of which are acted upon and some of which are not. Ministers are working together closely and we will do everything we can to support this group of people to move off benefits and into work.”…………………………………………

Recent benefit changes have included:

■ Incapacity benefit replaced by employment support allowance, requiring claimants to attend a medical examination by private firm Atos.

■ Annual benefit rises limited to 1%, below the rate of inflation.

■ A one-year limit put on claims through the work-related activity group (WRAG), under which they do not need to apply for employment to continue to receive payments.

■ Duncan Smith tried to abolish the independent living fund, which allows nearly 20,000 severely disabled people to stay in their communities, but the court of appeal overturned his decision.

■ The bedroom tax penalises people with “spare rooms”, even if those rooms accommodate carers or equipment for disabled child.

From ‘The Guardian’, 23rd November 2013. Read the full article here:

UK’s Supreme Court legitimises compulsory workfare

A major extension of workfare for unemployed claimants in the UK is underway. The move was green-lighted by the Supreme Court last week. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had appealed against a ruling by the Royal Courts of Justice in February that the government had not made clear to unemployed people their rights to appeal against being made to undertake unpaid work-based “training” and the penalties they could face.

That action was taken by Cat Reilly, 24, and Jamieson Wilson, 41. Reilly, an unemployed geology graduate, told the court she had been forced into an unpaid “training period” of six weeks at a local Poundland store. She had not been informed she could opt out of the scheme and believed her £56 a week Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) would be stopped if she refused.

Wilson, an unemployed lorry driver and father of three, had received a letter informing him that he must carry out 30 hours’ unpaid work a week, for six months, or lose his Job Seekers Allowance for up to 26 weeks. When he refused, he was stripped of his benefits.

In neither case was there prospect of employment at the end of their training.

Lawyers for the pair had argued that the workfare scheme violated Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits forced labour and slavery. The court rejected this claim and asserted that the government was entitled to impose sanctions on those refusing to participate in “job training”. It ruled, however, that the government had failed to get parliamentary approval for the scheme.

Faced with the prospect of having to pay £130 million in compensation to claimants whose benefits had been curtailed, the government issued new legislation retroactively legalising the sanctions and took its complaint against the verdict to the Supreme Court.

The court concurred that the previous workfare regulations had not adequately described the schemes and penalties. But it ruled in the government’s favour that workfare did not constitute forced or compulsory labour, and stipulated that there was a “civic aspect” to benefit entitlement. DWP minister Iain Duncan Smith said the judgment “confirms that it is right that we expect people to take getting into work seriously if they want to claim benefits.”

In reality, the schemes have nothing to do with finding people decent, well-paid employment. Such jobs that do exist are rapidly being dismantled as the ruling elite use the economic crisis to carry through a catastrophic assault on workers’ rights. With 3 million out of work, including 1 million 16-to-24-year-olds, the unemployed are to be used as a stalking horse for greater assaults on welfare and to drive down wages and conditions.

Tens of thousands of young people, including graduates, are already on unpaid job placements as they desperately seek work. Meanwhile, the number of people earning less than the “living wage”—£8.55 in London and £7.45 elsewhere—stands at over 5.2 million, up by more than 400,000 in a year. According to the report by the auditing firm KPMG, nearly three quarters of 18-to-21-year-olds earn less than this voluntary wage level.

The ruling clears the way for an expansion of workfare trailed by Chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative Party conference. Some 200,000 JSA claimants unemployed for two years are to be placed on a new Help to Work scheme that will include having to do 30 hours’ unpaid “community work” for six months.

By Julie Hyland on the ‘World Socialist Web Site’ 5th November 2013. read more here:

Government’s benefits advisers say PIP changes could cause ‘catastrophe

The government’s own benefits advice body has warned that last-minute changes made to eligibility for the new mobility benefit could have a “catastrophic” impact on some disabled people.

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) says in a letter that some disabled people will “almost certainly” be forced to quit their jobs because they can no longer travel to work. Others may have to cut their working hours.

The committee says it is concerned about the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) lack of evidence on the impact of its decision to tighten the walking distance criteria for the enhanced mobility rate of the new personal independence payment (PIP) from 50 to 20 metres.

The letter adds: “For some, especially in rural areas where public transport tends to be less available, it may not be an exaggeration to describe the impact as catastrophic with more disabled people becoming increasingly isolated.”

Esther McVey, the Conservative minister for disabled people, was forced to launch a consultation into the change from 50 to 20 metres after facing a judicial review over her decision to tighten the criteria.

SSAC says in its letter that DWP needs to make a stronger case for the change to PIP, which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA).

In the letter to DWP’s PIP assessment development team, the committee also suggests that the consultation document should be expanded to cover the potential impact on disabled people who will lose their Motability vehicles as a result of the changes.

And it calls on the government to consider “in more detail the impact on unpaid carers, the potential shift of costs to other areas (for example employers, health service and social care etc), and the impact on the Motability Scheme”.

It also says it is “concerned that the rationale for reducing the threshold to 20 metres may not represent an appropriate gauge for drawing the line on where ‘those with the greatest needs’ lie”.

It says 50 metres is “long-standing” and “widely accepted” as an appropriate threshold, so the case for cutting it needs to be “stronger than that currently presented in order to persuade individuals that 20 metres is a fair and more appropriate measure”.


By John Pring on the Diasbility News Service, 16th August 2013. Read the rest of the article here:

Anger as record number of maimed troops are denied disability benefit

Anger as record number of maimed troops are denied disability benefit in Government’s controversial assessments
Hundreds of injured ex-soldiers declared fit for work by Atos Healthcare

Royal British Legion announce rise in soldiers having claims rejected

Soldiers forced to undergo demeaning physical tests by firm

A record number of wounded war veterans have been denied disability benefits in the past year after undergoing tests carried out by the Government’s controversial assessment company.

Hundreds of injured ex-soldiers are being declared fit for work by Atos Healthcare in spite of physical and mental injuries they suffered in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last night, the Royal British Legion (RBL) announced a 72 per cent annual rise in former soldiers having their applications to receive Employment Support Allowance (ESA) turned down. Several hundred wounded personnel were denied the benefit on the basis of physical examinations conducted by Atos, according to the RBL.

The company is contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to assess benefits claimants’ capability to work.

In one case, Lance Corporal Mark Dryden, 35 – a former member of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who, after an explosion in Iraq, lost his right arm and the full use of his left – was asked by Atos assessors if he was left or right-handed. He is now taking his case against the DWP to a benefits tribunal.

That case, and others, have led to accusations that Atos Healthcare is under intense pressure to produce assessments that enable the Government to reject benefits claims.

Servicemen suffering from the mental scars of combat also complain that they have been turned down for disability benefits.

Many injured troops have also described having to undergo demeaning physical tests by the firm.

 By Mark Nicol in the ‘Daily Mail’ 1st June 2013

Read more: