Universal Credit ‘not an improvement for claimants’, according to benefits staffers

The government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme is in “disarray” and is suffering from a lack of staff, poor training and an inadequate IT system, according to its own workers.

A survey of members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said 90% believed the scheme’s current computing system which deals with benefits claims are not sufficient, with another 80% saying they had not received adequate training to prepare them for the new scheme.

Elsewhere, three quarters of the 400 people surveyed said working conditions were worse than in their previous role and four out of five adding they do not believe there is currently enough staff to cope with demand.

More than 50% also believe Universal Credit scheme – which is designed to make welfare simpler by combining six benefits, including Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit, into one single payment – is an improvement for workers.

Universal Credit, which was launched by the department of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith in April 2013, has struggled to be rolled out and its management has being previously criticised for being “extraordinarily poor”.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee also claimed the mismanagement of the project by Department for Work and Pensions had led to the waste of £140m ($211m) of taxpayers’ money.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “No one can trust Iain Duncan Smith to tell the truth about Universal Credit so it falls to the staff to expose this wasteful and politically motivated shambles for what it is.

Read the rest of this story from the International Business Times here: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/universal-credit-not-improvement-claimants-according-benefits-staffers-1491077

Bucking the trend: Poll shows huge opposition to privately-run public services

The public are overwhelmingly opposed to private firms running public services, a new poll has revealed.

The findings, in a Survation poll for campaign group We Own It, reveals the extent of public opposition to the role of Serco, G4S and others in providing public services.

Sixty-three per cent of people think Serco should be banned from bidding for any new public contracts after the firm was investigated for overcharging on government contracts.

Just seven per cent believed they should be able to bid for government contracts now.

Fifty-nine per cent of  people thought G4S should never be able to bid on another government contract after it overcharged for prison tags.

The poll comes as campaigners target Serco’s annual general meeting in London.

“People are feeling more than a little sick of Serco – too big to fail, too sprawling to deliver but too profit-hungry to serve us properly,” Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, said.

The poll suggests the public’s hostility towards private provision of public services varies depending on the sector.

Read the rest of ths article here: http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2014/05/08/bucking-the-trend-poll-show-huge-opposition-to-privately-run


Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg committed to the Government commissioning independent research to understand the impact of the bedroom tax

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg committed to the Government commissioning independent research to understand the impact of the bedroom tax

He stated this in response to a question from Harriet Harman, which highlights the problem of a tax where claimants are unable to move to a smaller property to avoid the tax.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): Will the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledge that his Government’s justification for the bedroom tax—that it will mean tenants moving to smaller homes—cannot work unless there are smaller homes for them to move to? What is his estimate of the percentage of tenants for whom there is no smaller home to go to?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I totally accept the premise, which is that a change from one system to another involves hard cases that need to be—[Interruption.] That is why we are providing hard cash for hard cases. We have trebled the discretionary housing payments that are available to local councils.I am not in any way seeking to ignore the fact that some individual cases really do need the flexibility and the money from local authorities to enable their circumstances to be dealt with.

Let me say this to the right hon. and learned Lady. If there is a principled objection to this change, I do not understand why, in all the years during which Labour was in government, exactly the same provisions existed for millions of people in the private rented sector.

Ms Harman: This is the central issue in the Government’s justification for a policy that the Deputy Prime Minister has brought forward and voted for. He obviously does not want to admit that for 96% of tenants, there is no smaller home to go to. No wonder councils are saying that the discretionary housing fund is completely inadequate to help all the families who cannot move and are falling into arrears. Does he recognise that this is a cruel and unfair policy that he should not have voted for? He should repeal it now.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I accept that for some households the change from one system to another creates real dilemmas that need to be addressed through the money that we are making available to local authorities. The right hon. and learned Lady cites a figure. To be honest, lots of wildly different figures have been cited about the policy’s impact. That is why we are commissioning independent research to understand its impact. I suspect that it varies enormously between one part of the country and another, and one local authority and another. That is why we are trebling the resources that we making available to local authorities.


from disabilityrightsuk.org, 16hth October 2013: http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2013/october/government-review-bedroom-tax-impact

More than 2.7m people will struggle with universal credit

A survey released today has found more than 2.7 million benefit recipients think they will struggle to make sense of their payments when universal credit is introduced.

The research from Payments Council’s consumer education campaign Pay Your Way found one in two people eligible for universal credit believe it will make it more difficult to manage their money.

It also found that nearly half of people who will be affected, haven’t considered the changes they will need to make to their budget, despite the payments being switched from weekly or fortnightly to monthly, and four in ten people prefer to budget their money using cash.

Some of the common concerns for these people were increasing debt and struggling to pay bills or rent on time.

New claimants in six areas, Hammersmith, Inverness, Rugby, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton, are being switched on to Universal Credit, starting from October.

Adrian Kamellard, chief executive of the Payments Council said: ‘The introduction of Universal Credit means that people will have to be savvier about managing their money and will have to plan for the whole month instead of budgeting on a weekly basis.

‘Understanding payments can help manage cash flow. Our guide explains different payment options which in turn can help pay bills on time, stay on top of your money and avoid missing payments or going overdrawn.’

In response to the concerns found in the research, Pay Your Way has created a guide to help people understand payment types and financial planning, which is attached to the bottom of the original article in ‘inside housing’, here:


New survey reveals impact of bedroom tax on Leeds tenants

Campaigners have revealed the impact of the Government’s so-called bedroom tax in Leeds.

Thousands of council house tenants in the city have fallen behind on their rent since the Bedroom Tax was introduced six months ago.

Figures show that 3,000 people – or 41 per cent of all tenants – in council homes have been pushed into rent arrears since the changes were made.

Campaigners from Hands Off Our Homes have, today, revealed the impact the spare room subsidy is having on the city as residents struggle to make ends meet.

New housing benefit regulations, introduced on April 1, led to reductions in benefit payments to tenants assessed to be under-occupying their accommodation.

Campaigners from Hands Off Our Homes have been offering support and advice to residents who have been affected by the changes. They claim a recent survey reveals that residents are living in fear of losing their homes.

John Davies, pictured, from the group said their survey shows that people’s health is suffering as the changes to welfare reforms continue to bite.

He said: “Every week we speak to parents, grandparents, disabled people, carers, people coping with mental illness who tell us about their lives, their families and their health are suffering as a result of the bedroom tax.

bt Laura Bowyer in the Yorkshire Evening Post: http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/new-survey-reveals-impact-of-bedroom-tax-on-leeds-tenants-1-6101824

“What we know from the hundreds of people we have spoken to at meetings, on stalls and in their homes, is that there are no such things as ‘exceptions’.

“Every single case is an injustice and the impact of the welfare reform act is forcing everyone affected into more and more vulnerable situations.”

Councillor Peter Gruen, executive member for neighbourhoods, planning and support services, said: “We recognise the concerns raised by Hands off our Homes and the work they are doing to bring the full impact of the government’s welfare changes to central government’s attention.”

“We work with all tenants in arrears and only seek to begin eviction proceedings when all other avenues have failed.”

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One in three Britons struggling to feed themselves

A Which? survey out today reveals that rising grocery bills are causing real hardship

The rise in the price of food is an extra source of stress for households who are already struggling to make ends meet, new research has revealed.

A survey by the consumer group Which? shows that as incomes stagnate, eight in 10 people in Britain are concerned that food is too expensive, and more than half worry about how they will pay for their groceries in the future if prices continue to climb.

The findings come at a time when the cost of food has grown over and above general inflation by 12.6 percentage points over the last six years, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Since last year, the price of food and alcoholic drinks rose by 3.9 per cent on average. However, in the same period, incomes rose by only 2.1 per cent, with three-quarters of consumers saying their income has stayed the same or decreased in the last year. The result of this is that three in 10 people now struggle to feed themselves or their family.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: “While people seem to have accepted their grocery bill going up, stagnating incomes and rocketing food prices are causing stress and worry, and leaving people wondering how they are going to cope.

“Supermarkets need to make it much easier for consumers to spot the best deal by ensuring pricing is simple, and making special offers genuinely good value for money. Politicians need to put consumers at the heart of their economic policies to tackle the rising cost of living and to support growth and prosperity.”

In the organisation’s separate monthly consumer tracking survey, one million more households admitted that they are feeling the squeeze compared to a year ago, leaving 9.5 million people struggling with the cost of living.

Chris Mould, executive chair of the Trussell Trust, a charity that provides support and sustenance for those in crisis, said that he has seen a 200 per cent rise in the number of people who needed food banks in the first quarter of this financial year compared to last year.

“The fact that one in three consumers say they struggle to feed themselves is seriously worrying. Food insecurity on this scale across the UK warrants urgent political attention. Until progress is made, the Trussell Trust food banks expect to provide an essential helping hand in times of crisis for an increasing number of people,” he said.

This year food replaced essentials such as household bills and car costs, as well as luxuries including holidays, as the top item that people spend their savings on.

The survey released today shows that the average amount spent on the weekly food shop for a household is £60, with couples and those with children shelling out around £80.

Some 86 per cent of people who say they are spending a larger proportion of their disposable income on food report that they are not buying more food, with three in 10 saying that they are in fact buying less. Two-thirds say their overall weekly household bill has increased compared to 12 months ago, with rising food prices mostly being blamed.

Shoppers claim they are feeling the hit mostly in staples such as meat, fresh vegetables and bread.

Katherine Trebeck, policy and advocacy manager for Oxfam’s UK programme, described the rise in food prices as “part of a perfect storm of high unemployment, falling real incomes and cuts to public services”. She stressed that the Government “urgently needs to improve the social security system so people struggling to afford the basics get the support they need to help them through these testing times”.

by Kashmera Gander in ‘The Independent’, 22nd September 2013

British Social Attitudes Report finds softening attitudes to benefits

The proportion of people who believed benefit cuts would damage too many people’s lives rose five percentage points to 47% in 2012



Attitudes to unemployment and to welfare payments have softened, a major survey of the public mood suggests.


The annual British Social Attitudes Report – which questioned more than 3,000 people for more than an hour – found 51% said benefits were too high in 2012, down from 62% in 2011.

The survey also showed a fall in support for Scottish independence, from 30% in 2006 to 23% in 2012. About 60% said the Scottish Parliament should be running taxes and welfare.


The British Social Attitudes Report has been running for 30 years.

According to the NatCen Social Research survey, sympathy for those without jobs has increased, while support for benefit cuts has fallen. The number of people who agreed with the statement that benefits are “too high and discourage work” fell from a high of 62% in 2011. And about half thought the unemployed could get a job if they really wanted one, down from two thirds in the boom years of the previous decade.


The coalition government identified reducing welfare spending as one of its most urgent priorities after the 2010 general election. Benefits have been capped by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith since then to a little less than £26,000 per year, per household.


But the proportion of people who believed that benefit cuts would damage too many people’s lives rose to 47% in 2012, from 42% in 2011.


In February last year, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that “five million people are trapped on out-of-work benefits and almost two million children are growing up in workless households”.He has also strongly condemned those who appear to have manipulated the system to gain as many benefits as possible. But the survey suggests that British people no longer have as much sympathy with this view.

The proportion of people found to be supportive of extra spending on benefits rose to 34% in 2012, compared with 28% in 2011

From the BBC News website, 10th September 2013. Read the rest of this article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24021037


COSLA President calls for urgent reconsideration of horrendous policy

A survey of all local authorities in Scotland carried out by COSLA, reveals the very significant financial pressures being placed on councils because of welfare reform changes to housing benefit by the UK Government after their introduction 100 days ago. 

Under occupancy changes made under the Welfare Reform Act 2012, which came into effect on 1 April, reduce housing benefit by 14% for those with one ‘extra’ bedroom and by 25% for those with 2 ‘extra’ bedrooms.  These changes apply to councils tenants and tenants of registered social landlords – the so called ‘bedroom tax.’ 

The changes are already leading to sharp rises in rent arrears.  Of that rent now due to be collected from tenants affected, 60% of councils reported receiving 40% or less and 80% of councils reported receiving 50% or less (based on responses from 20 of the 26 councils with their own housing stock). 

With the exception of one, all local authorities with their own housing stock reported an increase in rent arrears with three quarters of councils reporting that non-payment of rent now due following under occupancy changes, is directly responsible for the rise in arrears. 

There has also been a sharp rise in requests for Discretionary Housing payments for those in particular housing need. Scottish councils received over 22,000 requests by the end of May.  For most councils, this is over 4 times the numbers of requests received in the same period last year.  At the end of May, DHPs had been awarded to 44% of applicants, with 22% of the £10m funds made available in Scotland for DHPs by the Department for Work and Pensions, already spent.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, COSLA President, David O Neill said: 

“It will be exactly 100 days tomorrow since the under occupancy changes were introduced and I derive no pleasure whatsoever in seeing that our predictions about the dire consequences of this ill-conceived policy are starting to be borne out. 

“We always said that any saving to the UK treasury would be reflected in additional costs and financial pressures for tenants and councils.  Unfortunately that is exactly what is now happening. 

“Councils are being required to reduce housing benefit payments only to see rent arrears rise sharply and tenants experiencing distress. At the same time as housing services are being undermined by a threat to our income streams. 

“The UK Government need to urgently reconsider this horrendous policy and I shall be re-emphasising this yet again when I meet Lord Freud at the end of this month .’’

Download the Summary Findings document (98k, PDF)