Treasury to save hundreds of millions as DWP scheme to help the young get jobs misses target

This blog often criticises the Department of Work and Pensions for its treatment of pensioners and the disabled. The ministry often responds by saying it is balancing this by helping young people. So how well is it doing on that front?

Not very well according to a National Audit Office report published today. It looks into the running of the Kickstart programme – a jobs programme aimed to take young people aged 16 to 24 off Universal Credit and into work. It has the laudable aim of getting the most unemployable youngsters into a job and off benefit.

Launched in September last year with the aim of helping 250,000 young people and employers get £1500 a person to help them run the scheme and pay the young the minimum wage. Some £1.9 billion was allocated by the Treasury to do the job.

The target was to reach this number by the end of this year. Instead the NAO reveals it has been extended to next March and will only help 168,000 of them. The target was hindered by the double whammy of the pandemic. As the report said; ” Repeated lockdowns meant many of the young people who started to claim Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic were on Universal Credit for over a year before the scheme could get going at scale. As the programme did begin to scale up, the economy was reopening, which increased the risk of government subsidising jobs that would have been created anyway. “

The government’s logo for the scheme

Indeed this was not the only target missed. It was aimed at whose who would find it difficult to get jobs, yet anybody aged 16 to 24 could get a place. The ministry didn’t evaluate what sort of jobs the young people got and whether it was good value for money . It didn’t entirely help the ” levelling up ” process either. The largest number of jobs created were in central London though including poor boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. One area in the North East did get a good share but job offers were sparse in rural areas notably Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Norfolk, Powys and the Scottish borders.

The largest number of jobs offered were in admin, the desperate hospitality sector and the retail trade. The lowest number of placements were with law firms, transport operators, animal welfare and beauty treatments.

Firms caught cheating the young

Where company checks were made by local DWP managers there was a disturbing number of firms caught cheating the young by not paying them or putting their health and safety at risk. The report found “As at 20 October 2021, the Department had made 30 decisions to cap an employer or Gateway’s grant, [ limit the numbers a firm could employ]and 165 further decisions to end a grant agreement, including 105 decisions to remove an employer from a grant agreement with a Gateway.”

The DWP did not investigate whether the jobs would be filled anyway without the scheme either.

The result is that by no means all the £1.9 billion allocated by the Treasury will be spent and it is not known whether the rest has been spent wisely.

To be fair to DWP staff the report says the work coaches employed to help young people were enthusiastic about getting young people into work. It notes one or two individual successes including a young person with a criminal record and a drugs problem, getting a job and another unconfident young person getting an enjoyable job..

The report said: “When a Kickstart vacancy in dog daycare came up they wanted to apply, but lacked confidence in their application. Following discussion with their work coach they volunteered for an online course on animal care, after which they were successful in their job interview. Their work coach reports they are really enjoying their job, and would not have succeeded in getting it without Kickstart.”
The NAO praises the DWP for getting the Kickstart programmer off the ground but is not happy aboujt the evaluation of the project by the ministry.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“At the start of the pandemic, DWP acted quickly to set up Kickstart to help young people into work when youth unemployment was predicted to rise significantly.

“However, DWP has limited assurance that Kickstart is having the positive impact intended. It does not know whether the jobs created are of high quality or whether they would have existed without the scheme. It could also do more to ensure the scheme is targeted at those who need it the most.”

A similar view is expressed by Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

So once again a good idea is spoiled by a ministry that does not evaluate whether its programme – one of the most expensive run by the department costing around £7,000 per participant,- is doing its job.

Please donate to my blog to keep my forensic work going.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Labour peers say “pensioners will now pay the price” as Commons throw out Lords plan for bigger pension rise next year

Inflation rises to 4.2 per cent days after ministers limit rise to 3.1 percent

Labour peer Baroness Sherlock

The House of Lords accepted the Commons defeat over their plan to meet the broken Tory manifesto pledge to keep the “triple lock” on pension rises next April.

The proposal from former Tory pensions minister, Ros Altmann, would have increased pensions by less than 8.3 per cent – the rise in earnings – but more than 3.1 per cent rise in inflation.

Yesterday when the measure came back to the Lords not a single Conservative peer – not even Ros Altmann who had proposed the compromise – spoke in the debate. Instead it was left to Labour peers, a Liberal Democrat and a crossbencher peer to criticise the Commons decision.

Labour peer Lord (Bryn) Davies of Brixton – noting that inflation will be high next year – warned that having broken the ” triple lock” because a 8.3 per cent earnings rise was not regarded as atypical – had created a precedent that could apply the following year to inflation.

He said: “We know the Government believe that highly atypical trends in earnings growth are sufficient justification for breaking the earnings link. We do not know how atypical earnings growth needs to be in future before they decide again to break the link. Can the Minister tell us more about what counts as atypical earnings growth? How atypical does it need to be to justify breaking the promise?

“However, it is not just earnings growth that might be considered atypical. What counts as atypical growth in prices? This is not a hypothetical issue. Most of us here have become familiar with what many in this House might regard as consistently low rates of inflation, but who knows what is to come, with the unwinding of quantitative easing and other pressures on the economy? How do we know that the Government, when faced with a significantly higher rate of inflation than we have experienced in the last 25 years, will not decide that this too is atypical?”

Prem Sikka

Labour peer Lord (Prem) Sikka warned “At around 25% of average earnings, the UK state pension is already the worst in the industrialised world. It is the main or only source of income for the majority of retirees, and their lives will be even harder, especially those of women.

“Women never got pension equality: the retirement age was increased but their pension was never equalised with that of men. Thousands will die this winter because people will have to make the harsh choice between eating and heating, and the first statistics will be emerging fairly soon. Our retirees are being hammered from every corner, whether it is on pensions or winter fuel payments, which are unchanged since 2011, or the Christmas bonus, which is unchanged since 1972, or the loss of the free TV licence for the over-75s.”

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Stoneham of Oxford, also expressed concern about the future:

“We are concerned that pensioners will not be protected from the effects of the economic pressures now coming from inflation. The Governor of the Bank of England is very uneasy about the situation and we want to know whether the Government are prepared to keep an open mind and look particularly at the case of the poorest pensioners as time goes on in the next few months, when these pressures will come to a head.”

Lord Desai, a crossbench peer, insisted that government having broken the triple lock could now always use the lowest amount to put pensions up every year.

Lord Rooker: ” Lords will always be an irritant”

Lord (Jeff) Rooker defended the Lords raising the issue;” With ignorant journalists in the media calling for the abolition of your Lordships’ House, this issue shows, above all, that we will always be an irritant to the Government, whatever party is in power. ”

Labour Baroness Sherlock warned: Tthis short Bill is a mistake. It steps away from the earnings link and, in walking away from their manifesto commitment for the third time, the Government are breaking trust with the electorate. Why are they so determined to do it? Ministers tell us that it is for one year only. Great, but I worry that their refusal to be creative in finding a way to deal with the fallout from the pandemic raises fears that they really are planning to walk away from this longer term.

“My noble friend Lord Rooker is, as always, right. We have done what we can. We have asked the elected House to think again. The Government whipped their people to say that they did not want to do so. I think they are wrong. Pensioners will pay the price for this and they will not likely forget this breach of trust. I hope the Government think it was worth it.”

Conservative DWP minister Baroness Stedman- Scott insisted the change was for one year only and criticised Lord Sikka for saying the UK had the worst level of state pension in the industrialised West.

Pensioners are going to get very angry if they do not have enough money to heat and eat this winter and not be able to keep up with inflation next year. Could this be the issue that ends the Conservative’s long period of popularity? By being silent and not even considering that pensioners are worthy of an explanation could be the issue that kills support for the party among the elderly.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

MPs vote to stop pensioners to get a big rise next April

Commons vote to throw out Lords case for a revised triple lock rise

Guy Opperman, pensions minister,” reckless to pay pensioners more”

The House of Commons last night voted down the Lords case for a higher pension rise next April with Guy Opperman, the pension minister, describing such a move as ” reckless” as there could be no robust figure to work out a compromise figure suggested by former Tory pensions minister Baroness Altmann. He boasted that the government were spending huge sums on pensions ” amounting to £129 billion this year”.

Full list of MPs who didn’t want pensioners to get a bigger rise below -all Tories

Baroness Altmann had argued for a higher figure than the government’s 3.1 per cent but below the 8.3 per cent rise in earnings if the government had kept the triple lock. This follows the latest estimates for inflation rising as high as 5 per cent by next April. The government won by 300 votes to 229 and by 299 to 53 to disagree with the Lords.

Full vote on pension uprating here. Those who were against any more money for pensioners included Sir Geoffrey Cox, who has made a £1m advising a tax haven, Alok Sharma, the president of Cop 26, Red Wall Tory, Ben Bradley for Mansfield and Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield Bob Seely, Isle of Wight with a large pensioner population; millionaire Grant Shapps, the transport secretary; Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross; Peter Aldous, joint chair of the APPG on 50s women’s pensions and a clutch of Tories who won seats from Labour in the last general election. Two Tories rebelled and voted for the Lords uprating, Esther McVey, MP for Tatton and Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives. Derek Thomas it turns out voted against the government by mistake and then went into the government lobby. So he voted twice. Independents voting for the rise included former Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

There were a lot of MPs who didn’t vote including Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and among Labour, Andrew Gwynne, joint chair of the APPG on 50s women’s pensions, Jack Dromey and Margaret Beckett.

The government was opposed by Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the Alliance Party, the SDLP, and the Democratic Unionist Party. Only one Tory backbencher spoke to defend the government, Duncan Baker, the MP for Norfolk, North. Most Tory MPs stayed away from the debate.

Duncan Baker, Tory MP for Norfolk North. Claimed his large number of elderly pensioners accepted the logic of the need not to keep the triple lock this year.

He argued that his large number of elderly pensioner constituents understood the need not to increase pensions by 8.3 per cent because of the current financial situation. Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s social security spokesman, supported the Lords move and rejected the government’s case -saying it was reasonable for the government to find a figure.

The strongest support came from John McDonnell, who argued the full triple lock of 8.3 per cent should be paid because of pensioner poverty, women being especially hit. ” Under the Lords amendment we are talking about giving pensioners an extra £2.75 a week – it is ridiculous that we are arguing against this. I would give them the full 8.3 per cent – worth £7 a week.”

Three Scottish MPs – two from the Scottish National Party David Linden and Patricia Linden – and Liberal Democrat Wendy Chamberlain argued against the government. Wendy Chamberlain said she had not received a single letter supporting the government abandoning the triple lock and many letters opposing the move.

Stephen Timms, Labour chair of the Commons works and pensions committee, challenged the government to make up the shortfall and was sceptical whether the government would abandon the triple lock next year ( Guy Opperman denied this) but even if not, it meant pensions would continue to fall behind wages.

Please donate to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my investigative reporting

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Exclusive: Benefits watchdog wants tougher punishment for jobless and disabled claimants after DWP bungles new sanctions system

New sanctions to be imposed in Jobcentres

From November 3 the Department for Work and Pensions introduced a new tough regime for people claiming the new Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance. They will like those already on Universal Credit have to sign up to a ” claimant commitment ” to undertake whatever work coaches at the DWP demand from them to get a job, Failure to do so leads to a rising number of financial penalties ultimately leading to the withdrawal of all benefits.

The new regulations like the ones dealing with domestic abuse should have been scrutinised by Parliament but the main body that vets them is the little known Social Security Advisory Committee,(SSAC) a watchdog which is expected to see whether the benefit regime is fair and equitable.

Minutes and correspondence released by SSAC show that it has been doing its job since September and is currently involved in discussing the new regulations with Mims Davies, the employment minister.

Mim Davies, Parliamentary undersecretary at the Department for Work and Pensions

But people might be surprised to know that SSAC’s main focus has been on increasing the penalties on claimants rather than reducing them.

The reason is that the watchdog spotted that the tabled regulations had a big loophole which, in their view, made them less effective. The hideously complicated benefit system means that there are people who claim both Universal Credit and Jobseekers Allowance or the Employment and Support Allowance. Where they claim both the new regulations say only one penalty can apply on Universal Credit alone – and the Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance remain untouched.

SSAC want the penalties to apply to both.

Dr Stephen Brien

Dr Stephen Brien, the chair of SSAC wrote to the minister: “in circumstances where the value of UC element of the benefit was lower than the sanctioned amount, the claimant would be in a more favourable position than a claimant solely in receipt of either UC or a new style benefit who would be impacted by the full force of the sanction. As it is possible that the UC element of a dual claim
could be zero, this presents a significant inconsistency.”

He went on: ” the Committee is of the strong view that this inconsistency be reviewed and addressed at the earliest opportunity.” The ministry went ahead with regulations as they stand and is still discussing what it should do while it looks at the effectiveness of the new sanctions.

Since the sanctions system depends on the views of the DWP work coach it looks like the fate of many claimants will decided by individual civil servants. Now it so happens that SSAC has done some serious work on the ” claimant commitment ” rules under Universal Credit which decide whether sanctions will be applied.

The report two years ago is a somewhat idealistic document which expects a parity of esteem between the civil servant handing out the sanction and a desperate claimant getting the benefit. It says the commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP. It also says claimants should be properly informed.

Real world not the same as the idealistic picture of claimant commitment

However in the real world SSAC found it was pretty mixed picture. It found some good practice but also examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, re-assessment interviews lasting just ten minutes and “not all work coaches are using discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. We saw examples of work coaches copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Jobcentre.”

As usual the DWP itself didn’t seem to have an overall picture of what was happening as it couldn’t be bothered to put together a national picture. So it is rather strange that the present SSAC committee is concentrating on punitive measures. Or is it?

The present committee under Stephen Brien, who worked for Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies and now works for the United Arab Emirates funded Legatum Institute is more inclined to want to correct inefficiency in the DWP than to take tough action over the welfare of claimants.

What is deeply worrying is that many claimants – particularly more elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health could get some very harsh treatment. They might be lucky and get a really sympathetic work coach or they could be landed with a jobsworth or worse a power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down. Will SSAC be bothered? Documents referred to in this article can be found on the SSAC website here.

Please donate to my site to keep up my forensic monitoring of Westminster and Whitehall.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

please donate to Westminster Confidential

PLN 10.00

Lords reveals 12 million pensioners lose £30 billion as rebel peers defeat government over scrapping the triple lock

But deputy speaker stops Lord Sikka’s” full restitution” amendment going to a vote

Baroness Stedman-Scott Defeated in the Lords

The government were roundly defeated in the Lords – by 220 votes to 178 – yesterday over its plans to abolish the triple lock for next year’s pension rise – reducing the up rating for pensioners from 8.1 per cent to 3.1 per cent.

The loss of cash for pensioners in the next five years is enormous. They lose a share of £5.4 billon next year, £5.78 billion in 2023-24, £6.1 billion in 2024-25, £6.5 billion in 2025-26 and £6.7 billion in 2026-27. That amounts as Lord Sikka told peers to £30.5 billion removed from pensioners’ pockets over the next five years.

What happened yesterday in the Lords were two separate approaches to challenging the government’s decision to end for next year the link between pensions and earnings.

Baroness Ros Altmann

The first which was successful was put forward by Baroness Ros Altmann, a former Tory pensions minister, in a series of amendments. She had the support of Labour’s Baroness Sherlock, a former special adviser to Gordon Brown and an ordained priest at Durham Cathedral; Baroness Janke, a Liberal Democrat peer and former leader of Bristol council; and Baroness Boycott, a crossbench peer, feminist and former editor of the Independent newspaper.

It was one of these amendments that led to the defeat of the government in the Lords. This particular amendment had the support of former Labour Cabinet minister, Baron Hain, Liberal Democrat baroness Janke and crossbencher (and ex Conservative) Baroness Wheatcroft former editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

Basically the amendment challenged the government’s calculation of the rise in earnings at 8.1 or 8.3 per cent and wanted a new calculation stripping out the effect of the pandemic. Lady Altmann initially had put this at 3.8 per cent but yesterday suggested it could be as high as five per cent and then suggested she was had no firm figure. This particular approach had the support of Labour.

The official wording maintained the link with “earnings obtaining in Great Britain, as adjusted to take account of the exceptional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the level of earnings”.

She told peers: ” after seeing alcohol and fuel duty cut in the Budget and the bank surcharge allowance raised, and adding up the amount of Exchequer savings that those measures entail, half the cost of not honouring the triple lock will cover the costs of just those three measures. I appeal to noble Lords across the House: is this really the country that we believe that we should be living in? Is that the priority for public spending?”

The key point about this amendment is that it does not restore the full 8.1 per cent to pensioners and it leaves the government to decide if it wants to – the new earnings rate.

Baroness Stedman Scott, the DWP Lords minister, did not sound convinced. Referring to a blog on the Office for National Statistics site she said “Using a range of possible estimates based on a method that cannot be agreed on does not provide a sufficiently robust basis for making critical decisions about billions of pounds-worth of expenditure.”

Prem Sikka

The second more radical approach came from Prem Sikka, Lord Sikka. He was backed by Baroness Bennett, Natalie Bennett the former Green leader; Baron Davies of Brixton – Bryn Davies- a former Labour union leader; Baroness Blower, Labour and former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers and Lord Hendy, Labour, a barrister and labour law expert. Lord Sikka told them the government’s measure “is also contrary to the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Rather than levelling up, it impoverishes citizens and condemns millions of current and future retirees to a life of poverty and misery. There is no moral or economic rationale for this; indeed, none has been offered by any Minister so far.

“The Government’s own statistics, published on 3 September 2021, say that the average weekly pre-2016 state pension is £169.21 for males, £141.98 for females, and the overall mean is £155.08. The average weekly post-2016 pension is £166.34 for males, £160.11 for females, and the overall average is £164.23. As we can see from these figures, women are especially impoverished by the way that pensions are calculated and paid. They will be hit even harder by the abandonment or, as the Minister might say, the temporary suspension of the triple lock.”

….”Low pensions condemn our citizens to a life of misery. Some 1.3 million retirees are affected by malnutrition or undernutrition. Around 25,000 older people die each year due to cold weather, and we will no doubt hear the grim statistics for this year, possibly on 26 November when the next numbers are out. Despite the triple lock, the proportion of elderly people living in severe poverty in the UK is five times what it was in 1986, which is the largest increase among major western countries. Some 2.1 million pensioners live in poverty, and the poverty rate has actually increased since 2012-13.”

Baroness Fookes : Blocked official vote

Then extraordinarily Baroness Fookes, a Tory peer who was a deputy speaker, blocked a vote on Lord Sikka’s amendment leading Lord Sikka to say he was cheated. She argued that his opponents had made more noise than his supporters to justify the decision.

If this amendment had been passed it would have allowed pensioners to get the full uprating of 8.1 per cent but would have wrecked the bill. Labour did not support this and would have abstained. A spokesman for the Labour Whip’s office explained:”Prem’s amendment was not in line with the Lords’ constitutional position, in that it would wreck the core purpose of a bill that the Commons had already voted to support.

There was all party support however for a full impact study into pensioner poverty after peers from all sides had expressed concern about the plight of pensioners this winter and the DWP minister promised this when faced with possibility of yet another Lords revolt.. There was also a promise from the minister for a detailed explanation of the national insurance fund – which appears to have a £37 billion surplus which the government says cannot be used to pay for keeping the triple lock.

What is clear is that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has been silent about this surplus in all the documents he produced to accompany the Budget. If it turns out that it has been used secretly to repay government debt I suspect there will be an all mighty row as 12 million pensioners will feel they have been cheated yet again by successive governments. Watch this space for more developments.

Read here who supported revising the triple lock and those who were against pensioners getting a penny more. Those in favour included 3 Tories, 99 Labour, 41 cross benchers,64 Liberal Democrats,13 non affiliated, including one Green Party and 2 Democratic Unionist Party.

Those against included 165 Tories, 11 crossbenchers and 2 non affiliated peers. Hereditary peers also voted against. You can see all their names on the link.

Please Donate to Westminster Confidential to allow me to continue my forensic investigations.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£5.00
£10.00
£20.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Please donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

Peers fight into the night for 12 million pensioners to get the full “triple lock” rise of over £14 a week

Baroness Stedman-Scott, DWP minister in the Lords who said bill would collapse if peers voted for the amendments

The government came under fire from all parties last night in a late sitting in the House of Lords for deciding to scrap the “triple lock” for pensioners- reducing next April’s rise from over £14 to £5.55 a week.

There also was a constitutional row when the Conservative Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Evans, on advice from the clerks, wanted to rule out of order an amendment from Tory peer Baroness Stroud, on the £20 a week cut in Universal Credit. It was quite clear from her proposal – she worked with Iain Duncan Smith at the Centre for Social Justice – that she wanted MPs to to have a vote on the cut and was not happy with the policy.

The debate which ran on until midnight united rebellious Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and crossbenchers in opposition to the plans to break the earnings link.

Baroness Altmann, a former Conservative pensions minister, proposed three amendments – all aimed at restoring in some way an earnings link – though offering the government a compromise by either linking to a lower earnings level or giving the highest rise to those pension credit – who are the poorest pensioners.

Lord Sikka – picture credit Twitter

By far the strongest criticism of the move came from the Labour peer, Prem Sikka, who wanted to scrap the clause altogether. He was backed by Baroness Bennett, the former Green Party leader and Lord Davies of Brixton, a former trade unionist and leader of the Inner London education authority.

He called for the full 8.3 per cent up rating to be paid:” In the 1980s, the Thatcher Administration broke the link between earnings and the state pension, and we never recovered from it. This is another example of where, once that link is broken, we will never really recover from it; the Minister so far has not said that in future the backlog will somehow be made up. Nothing has been said about that.”

“The current full state pension at the moment is £9,350 a year, and only four out of 10 retirees receive it. The average state pension is about £8,000 a year and, as has already been pointed out, is around 24% or 25% of the earnings. It is the lowest among industrialised nations, and by not increasing the state pension in line with average earnings we are going to condemn it to remain low.”

He said that state pensions were lowest in Europe – just 4.6 per cent od gross national product – compared to 10 per cent in Germany.

1.25 million women pensioners living in poverty

He asked: “Why is it that the Government are content for such low allocation to the state pension? What happened to the billions that the Government took from 3.8 million women by raising their state pension age from 60 to 66? What happened to the billions that the Government said would be saved by coming out of the European Union? Why have those resources not been used to lift our senior citizens out of poverty?”

He added: “Despite the triple lock, 2.1 million pensioners live in poverty, 1.25 million of whom are women. The poverty rate is higher now that it was in 2012-13. Many simply struggle to survive. Those retirees who try to top up their meagre state pension with part-time work will soon be hit by the Johnson tax: a 1.25% hike in national insurance. At the same time, what do we actually observe? For those rich people who make vast fortunes from capital gains and dividends, or speculation on second homes, commodities markets and securities markets, no national insurance contributions are payable on unearned income. That money could definitely be used to alleviate poverty, but the Government have not indicated any inclination to do that.”

“£8.50 a week is probably less than what many ministers pay for a glass of wine”

He said it would cost £4.7 billion to do so and could easily be raised by raising the national insurance levy on unearned income, such as shares or capital gains, which are exempt from the new levy.

“A triple lock based upon the existing formula could have given an increase of around 8% to 8.3%, adding up to about £14 a week in the full new state pension, instead of £5.55 a week. That is a difference of about £8.50 a week. Is that really a king’s ransom? It is probably less than what many Ministers pay for a glass of wine with their lunch.”

Baroness Bennett said she wanted a even more radical overhaul of the pensions system – saying no pensioner should live in povery and the con tributory system which is unfair to women should be abolished.

Baroness Stedman-Scott, junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, said if Lord Sikka’s proposal was passed the bill would collapse as it has only two clauses and asked for him to withdraw it. He did but promised to come back next Wednesday when the bill is debated again when he plans to raise the issue of the National Insurance Fund whose latest accounts show it has a £37 billion surplus. Curiously I learnt that Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, did not want Labour peers highlighting the issue of the pensions ” triple lock” implying Labour was prepared to go along with the Tories over this issue but it seems pretty clear from the debate that this was ignored. Rather extraordinary that Labour don’t want to highlight the issue.

For those who want to see the debate go to https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/3af431d5-923d-46d3-a9ec-3bf5a3ad7d2f and scroll down to 20:12:26 Legislation: Social Security (Uprating of Benefits) Bill – committee stage .It is a long debate lasting nearly four hours.

Please donate to my blog to continue through coverage and through forensic investigations

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£3.00
£5.00
£10.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Donate to Westminster ConfidentiaL

£10.00

DWP dumps on benefit watchdog and ignores plea for more help for victims of domestic violence

The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.

Ministry turns down plea from social security watchdog

As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.

The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.

The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.

Mr Brien wrote: “Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.”

Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation

But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.

A DWP spokesperson said:

“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”

Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.

It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.

Not one MP or peer spoke up about this

The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.

They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.

Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.

Benefits watchdog keeps mum

I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.

However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.

For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.

So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.

Previous Blog

https://davidhencke.com/2021/10/03/exclusive-half-baked-and-half-hearted-dwps-help-for-women-facing-domestic-abuse-and-violence/

Please consider a donation to allow me to expand and develop this blog to hold more people and government to account

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£3.00
£5.00
£10.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Donate to Westminster Confidential

£10.00

EXCLUSIVE: Half baked and half hearted: DWP’s help for women facing domestic abuse and violence

With the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer dominating the headlines by coincidence the government’s benefit watchdog this weekend released minutes of a meeting with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on tackling domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse Pic credit: HelpGuide.org

The little known Social Security Advisory Committee was examining new regulations from the ministry due to come into law on payments and help for victims (usually women) of domestic abuse.

You might not think the DWP would have any role in domestic violence but actually it can help by removing benefit penalties and also open the door to money to improve security measures in a victim’s home.

The ministry must have been pretty tardy in doing anything about this as the reason for the new regulations stemmed from a government defeat at the European Court of Human Rights.

At the centre of this case was the much loathed ” bedroom tax ” where 14 per cent of your housing benefit payment can be clawed back if you have more bedrooms than you need.

Women who throw out an abusive partner or grown up member of the family could find themselves liable for this ” tax” if they want to stay in the family home. This regulation exempts them.

No relief from benefit penalties if you are pursued by a stalker

But as the committee found it is a pretty narrow concession. If you are being abused by a stranger or a stalker you can’t escape the penalty. The ministry has decided they are not ” family” even if they are being as violent or frightening as any member of the family.

And it only applies if you live a council house or flat – is you live in private rented accommodation you have to apply for a discretionary housing payment – and given it is discretionary you may not get it. And that applies whether it is family or a stalker.

That’s why I think the change is half hearted and half baked -designed to help a minimum number of people.

But the meeting also disclosed much more. To qualify for these payments and removal of penalties you have to enrol in a sanctuary scheme. This is service which can protect you in your home -by installing extra locks, fireproof letterboxes and in some cases a ” panic room” with a reinforced door where you can flee from attack from an abusive partner or intruder and call the police.

But guess what? The onus is on the claimant to find out about the sanctuary scheme – not on the Department to tell them about it. Just like the millions of 50swomen over their pensions and the millions of people opted out of SERPS who have lost out on a guaranteed minimum pension, the ministry is not bothered to ensure they know. Both of these issues led to rulings of ” maladministration” against the ministry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t a clue

But it is even worse than that. The ministry hasn’t a clue how many people are in sanctuary schemes because there is no central record.

Only next year will local authorities have a duty to collect this information but otherwise it is being left to charities, the police and other bodies to tell claimants. The minutes say: “A number of ways to identify claimants in scope of the measure were attempted – requests were made to local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – but the information is not available”

Details of the sanctuary scheme are here – it is aimed at charities.

Stephen Brien;:Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee

Such a situation has led the chair of the committee, Stephen Brien, to write to the DWP:

“Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.

” A number of claimants will be unaware “-Stephen Brien

“Given the vulnerable situations within which this group finds itself, there is potential risk of harm should these claimants remain unaware of the support available to them resulting in their leaving a home where additional security has been installed.”

He also said the definition of who could escape the penalty was too narrow and should be extended to stalkers and that there was not enough being done to support people in private rented accommodation.

“The narrow focus adopted by the Department could lead to inconsistent treatment of people at risk of violence because their circumstances fall outside of those defined by the regulations.”

The SSAC has not formally objected to the new regulation but is seeking some improvements.

This seems to be yet another example of the ministry not informing people of their rights and in this case in an area where public concern has been heightened by the issue of male violence makes it doubly important that something is done. Will the DWP do it though?

please donate to help me investigate more stories

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£3.00
£5.00
£10.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

westminster confidential

£10.00

Time for a new UN convention on the rights of older people

Today is the United Nations International Day of Older Persons. As the number of older people grows in developed countries they are becoming a much bigger force.

Yet as we see in the UK the government pays mere lip service to them – trying to present the general public with the idea that they are all well off and preferring to focus on the young.

Indeed the present Tory government thinks it can get away with targeting them – along with the poor- for the mainstay of their new post pandemic austerity polices.

In the last few years they have taken away free TV licences for the over 75s, abolished the ” triple lock ” for pension rises for one of the lowest state pensions in developed countries, continually raise the pension age and targeted women born in the 1950s and 1960s -taking away around £50,000 in pension payments by raising their pension age.

Many people aged 60 cannot now get free bus passes until they are 66 and ministers now have their plans to make them pay full prescription charges from the ages of 60 to 66 – knowing that far more of them are unhealthy and suffer chronic ailments than younger people. And they are going to reintroduce national insurance contributions for those over 66 who supplement their pension by working.

Older people facing redundancy

There are also problems for older people being targeted for redundancies -indeed the organisation Rest Less, (website here) which monitors job prospects for the over 50s, suggests that there were half a million people over the age of 50 on furlough according to the latest figures. They are reporting growing numbers of economically inactive people in their 50s and 60s. How are they going to get a full pension?

So it is rather good news that JustFair – a campaigning organisation – is calling for a new international convention on the rights of older people. You can read about them and their proposal here. Sufficient to say it highlights a lot of issues affecting older women – and it has the backing of CEDAWinLaw which held a tribunal examining women’s rights and the case for putting that UN convention on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women into UK law.

As it says: “Gender inequality in older age is the result of disadvantages accumulated over the life course and further exacerbated by ageism and age discrimination. As a result, many older women are denied their rights, a situation further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic with its disproportionate effect on both older persons and women. It is estimated that the impact of the pandemic increased the gender gap by a generation.  This means that women will continue to reach older age in a disadvantaged position unless structural changes are made“.

Internationally the UN is highlighting a huge digital divide between developed nations and developing countries over the internet with older people the worst affected.

Yet, one-half of the global population is off-line, with the starkest contrast between the most developed countries (87%) and the least developed countries (19%) (ITU Facts and Figures 2020).

Age UK Dacorum’s campaign to highlight the UN day

There are also lots of local events today highlighting the day. In my area in Hertfordshire Dacorum Age UK have a fund raising campaign called ” Slip into Slippers” celebrating the dignity of old age and the fact that many older people play a big role in the community.

Charlie Hussey, development officer for Age UK Dacorum said: “We are asking individuals businesses schools and clubs to get involved by Slipping into Slippers for some of the day, and encourage people to have some fun, make a small voluntary donation and take some photos / videos. All to raise funds and awareness of Age UK Dacorum and highlight the needs of older people and equally importantly the contributions they can still make to our community. “

I am also raising funds for my own website to develop my work holding the government and the powerful to account. Please donate if you can

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

£3.00
£5.00
£10.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00
£3.00
£9.00
£60.00

Or enter a custom amount

£

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

westminster confidential

£10.00

The “systemic maladministration ” facing the disabled applying for Personal Independence Payments -official findings

Margaret Kelly Northern Ireland Ombudsman

Northern Ireland ministry and Capita under fire

An absolutely damning report has been issued by Margaret Kelly, the Northern Ireland Ombudsman on the way hundreds of thousands of disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 are assessed to see if they qualify for personal independence payments.

This two year investigation into the benefit is the first made by the Ombudsman using new powers under Northern Ireland legislation giving their Ombudsman the power to initiate inquiries if the Ombudsman thinks something is going wrong. This type of inquiry would be illegal in England, Scotland and Wales because Ombudsman do not have the same powers.

In Westminster Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is currently refusing to even introduce draft legislation to give Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. similar powers to start his own inquiries.

The findings apply to the 250,580 people who applied for the benefit in Northern Ireland but as the NI Ombudsman’s Office says ” there are many similarities to PIP across other parts of the UK.”

The report – which examined 100 cases in minute detail, made extensive inquiries of the ministry and Capita, and looked at statistics governing appeals concludes there has been ” systematic maladministration” by the Northern Ireland Department for Communities and Capita, who were administering the assessments.

Not “one off mistakes”

The report says these were not one off mistakes. Instead she” identified repeated failures which are likely to reoccur if left unremedied. It is therefore my view that there is more work to be done to improve the experience and outcomes for claimants, the robustness of decision making and public confidence in the system.”

She has made some 33 recommendations and has given the ministry and Capita six months to rectify them. She can’t compel the ministry to implement them but has said she will do a follow up report to see what they have done. The report also went to members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Ms Kelly said:
“Too many people have had their claims for PIP unfairly rejected, and then found themselves having to challenge that decision, often ‘in the dark’, and on multiple occasions, while not knowing what evidence has been requested and relied upon to assess their entitlement.

” Both Capita and the Department need to shift their focus to ensure that they get more of the PIP benefit decisions right the first time, so that the most vulnerable people in our society get access to the support that they need, when they need it. Furthermore, it will safeguard public resources by reducing both the time and costs associated with examining the same claim on multiple occasions.”

The report reveals a serious lack of leadership and guidance from the ministry, poor communication with claimants and a failure to get key additional medical information which would have helped them get the benefit. As a result many of them had their applications turned down only to appeal and get the benefit – at a cost of some £14m to the taxpayer. If the ministry and Capita had got the information in the first place there would have not have been the need for an appeal.

Capita had an incentive NOT to get further medical information to help claimants

She also discovered that disability assessors working for Capita had a perverse incentive NOT to get additional information to help the claimant because they would get a bonus if they completed the application quicker and getting extra information slowed down the process.

Capita were also criticised for poor communications with health professionals as well as claimants. When evidence was requested from Health Professionals named by the claimant, the request letters sent by Capita were often poorly completed and did not specify what information was sought.

In face to face assessments, the evidence from the consultations was often the primary and in some cases the only source of evidence relied upon by the Disability Assessors when providing their advice to the Department.

I came across this report because of a link to my blog from UKAJI, the United Kingdom Administrative Justice Unit, who have reviewed the long report. Their article is here.

I concur with their review which was impressed with the high standard of the research and the bar it set for future Ombudsman investigations.

To my mind this again shows the current weakness of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in Westminster. The present Ombudsman can only investigate complaints and therefore is left with a much narrower remit. By having powers to do a broad ranging investigation, much more detail can be investigated and issues that governments don’t want to address can be highlighted. Hence the conclusion in this report that the disabled have been subject not just to maladministration but ” systemic maladministration”. I bet disabled claimants are similarly treated in the rest of the UK but nobody has the resources to properly investigate their poor treatment. Let’s see what happens in Northern Ireland following this devastating report.