Coffey sneaks through tough plan to push 114,000 Universal Credit claimants into jobs while Parliament is in recess

Therese Coffey :Pic credit: gov.uk

The Department of Work and Pensions is to tighten the rules significantly to force 114,000 existing Universal Credit claimants into work as job vacancies soar across Britain.

She is changing the rules so far more people will have to go on what is known as an intensive work search regime where they will be monitored continually by work coaches on how many jobs they have applied for and why they didn’t get them.

Therese Coffey has been planning to do this since January this year and consulted the Social Security Advisory Committee, chaired by the architect of Universal Credit, Stephen Brien, on January 26.

Ian Caplan, DWP’s Director of Employment, Youth and Skills

A letter to the committee from Ian Caplan, director of employment, youth and skills said:

“The Secretary of State wishes to bring in the change as soon as practically possible…for providing immediate support to low-earning households to increase incomes at a time of immense cost of living pressures…. By bringing these regulations into force as quickly as possible, including by laying the regulations in recess, the Department can start making the operational preparations”

SSAC kept decision secret for 8 months

The committee approved the idea on February 4th but agreed to keep the decision secret until last week when it published the minutes of a meeting between DWP officials and the committee.

To make the change the government is using a regulation to uprate what is known as the Administrative Earnings Threshold – a device which sets the level of benefit and earnings dividing those who only receive ” a light touch” regime – ie occasional checks whether they are seeking work – from their local job centre and those put on intensive work search programmes. Those who refuse or don’t co-operate properly with face benefit cuts as a sanction.

It will move the level from £355 to £494 a month for a single claimant and from £567 to £782 a month for a couple. At present some 250,000 people covered by the intensive work search programme are in work – this will increase the number by 50 percent. The government justify it by saying the new level brings it into line with recent rises in the national minimum wage for those in work.

What is more interesting – and perhaps why the minutes were withheld – is the question and answer session between the committee members and civil servants.

While the overall aim of the scheme is to get a higher income for the unemployed – by getting them work or more work for those in part time jobs – the DWP admit they have another agenda. Questioned about the current job vacancies level encouraging this move officials said: “the vacancies position the labour market is considered by some to be hot which could be driving inflation.”

In other words by getting more of the unemployed into work, employers would have a bigger pool of labour and would not have to offer higher wages or even compensate people for the rising cost of living.

Will the unemployed be recruited as strikebreakers?

There may now be an even more compelling reason as Therese Coffey wants this to be law from September 26, since the government plans to use agency workers to break the coming strike wave. What would suit ministers would be if the unemployed could be drafted in as agency workers leading to confrontation with striking workers on trains, buses, schools, the NHS, and the post office with shouts of ” scab” and bringing the police in to make mass arrests of strikers. A reminder of the miners’ strike.

There were other gems from the minutes – which in my view revealed the attitudes of the DWP and committee members

There was much questioning about the effect this could have on 16-24 year olds which suggested the programme could work for them. There was concern about the disabled – and an admission by the DWP that except in Yorkshire it had done hardly any research on how this could affect them.

DWP building

What was tellingly missing was the complete lack of interest from the DWP or committee members about the effects on people over the age of 50 and 60. The DWP didn’t even bother to give the committee a breakdown on them. But it is a fact that the rising of the pension age to 66 -particularly among women has seen a big increase in numbers on Universal Credit who can’t get jobs.

I really wonder whether this is prejudice. Women like Therese Coffey, who is 50, have had stellar careers and I wonder if they think women born in the 1950s and 1960s who are on the dole are failures or nonentities, don’t cause them a lot of trouble and don’t turn physically aggressive like some men. So they can be safely ignored. Certainly any thought about their plight or indeed any old person was spectacularly missing from discussion about this new drive.

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DWP ignores the Parliamentary Ombudsman and refuses to compensate 118,000 disabled people hit by benefit maladministration

Worry precedent at the Department for Work and Pensions

The Department for Work and Pensions has set a worrying precedent for millions of people hoping to get compensation if civil servants get their benefit and pensions payments wrong or don’t inform them correctly by refusing to pay them a penny.

The decision also shows up the weakness of complaining about maladministration to the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, in cases involving the ministry as it ignores his rulings.

The PHSO’s strong Youtube video on this case

This particular case involved 62 year old Ms U, who lives alone in London borough of Greenwich -one of the few authorities to still have a welfare rights service – who was on incapacity benefit and was moved on to the new employment and support allowance in 2012. This is aimed to be paid to people who cannot work because of severe health problems and is paid at two levels. The lower level is based on a person’s national insurance contributions and the means tested higher level which include premiums and access to other benefits like free prescriptions in England.

Ms U should have fitted into the second category. Ms U suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, arthritis, hypertension, and Graves’ disease an autoimmune condition. But she was wrongly put in the first category. As a result she lost access to free prescriptions and missed out in getting her home insulated under the Warm Homes scheme.

Ms U couldn’t afford to heat her home

Her representative said:” She could not afford to heat her property and could not afford to buy appropriate food to keep healthy. He said Ms U had poor mental health during that period and highlighted links between paranoid beliefs and depression and economic deprivation.

As far as her physical health was concerned, her hair fell out and she lost a lot of weight. Her representative said that since 2012, Ms U’s health had declined markedly: she had recently had a bypass operation, had deep vein thrombosis and poor blood flow in her legs and was due to have a toe amputated.”

Her underpayment went on for over five years from May 2012 to August 2017 before finally her arrears which then added up to £19,832.55 were paid. But she felt she was also entitled to compensation as the error had been committed by the ministry. The Ombudsman agreed in a report she had suffered an injustice and said the Department should pay her £7,500 compensation and interest on the lost benefit of over £19,000.

NAO report forced the department to find 118,000 other cases

She was not alone. An investigation by the National Audit Office found that some 118,000 disabled people had suffered the same fate prompting anger among MPs on the Commons Works and Pensions and the Public Accounts Committee at this huge error. Some £600m has had to be paid in arrears.

The Ombudsman also recommended that the rest of the 118,000 should also get compensation for maladministration and the department should take a proactive approach to deal with this.

It has now emerged that the department has refused to do this – despite the Ombudsman’s recommendation. I am indebted to Professor Robert Thomas at Manchester University and CEDAWinLAW who spotted this in a freedom of information request two days ago. See @RobertThomas223 and his tweet thread of August 5.

He said in a series of tweets:

“This issue is important because @dwp underpaid these people their benefit entitlements and many will have suffered injustice as a result. @PHSOmbudsman recommended that @DWP proactively compensate them. It refused. Affected people must approach DWP instead.

“But many people lack the confidence, stamina and knowledge to seek redress from government. Also, this is a largely vulnerable cohort of people. The result: unremedied injustice because of @dwp

“The underlying issue is, of course, money and almost certainly HM Treasury’s refusal to fund compensation. But the DWP can present itself as being fair: “anyone can contact us” while also knowing that few affected people will actually do so in practice. “

Sir Stephen Timms, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee

Since seeing this I have contacted Sir Stephen Timms, Labour chair of the Commons Works and Pensions Committee, to see if, as they promised the Ombudsman, the DWP had alerted him to the decision. Initially he said he could not recall getting this and promised to investigate what has happened.

There is another big issue. This could impact on the Waspi campaign and the all party state pension inequality group of MPs to get compensation for women through a report from the Ombudsman. If after the Ombudsman says compensation is due the DWP follows this practice for the 3.8 million – six people will get compensation and the remaining 3.6 million still alive will have to write individual letters outlining their case to the ministry for any money due which will take even more time to resolve. You have been warned.

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DWP dumps on disabled claimants by rejecting plans to give them more say and rights over benefits

Chloe Smith, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work

The Department for Work and Pensions has turned down some innovative proposals from its own advisory body, the Social Security Advisory Committee, to give disabled people more say in the benefit system.

The response to a report from the committee made over a year ago came in the last few days of the Parliament with an explanation from Chloe Smith, the minister.

Not only does her reply do an injustice to disabled people but heavily reflects the corporate approach inside the ministry which in my view, does not treat people claiming benefits as independent human beings who might have something to contribute to the running of the service.

Having a protocol for engagement is ” bureaucratic “

Typical of today’s government responses Chloe Smith cherry picks parts of the report which fit in with DWP’s grand corporate plan to digitalise everything – while ignoring other more challenging proposals to help the disabled.

The SSAC report- full details here – suggests the government should formalise engagement procedures with disabled people – giving them a chance to put their own views into how the benefit system could help them. The government rejects this as ” bureaucratic” while claiming it engages in meaningful discussions. The problem with this is that the government chooses what it wants to consult about and ignores issues it doesn’t.

The second recommendation was that the ministry should provide regular updates on its engagement with disabled people. The ministry rejects this on the grounds it already provides details of quarterly ministerial meetings with who attended under existing transparency rules ( I wonder how many disabled people search this out ). It certainly doesn’t want this extended to officials using the rather curious argument that “we need to recognise that some stakeholders or users may not want to be identified as having worked with the Department and we do not want to compromise open and honest dialogue.”

Really? Given the ministry publish the people who attend ministerial meetings on the disabled this seems rather contradictory.

A panel for disabled people ” not value for money”

The third rejected recommendation is a proposal to recruit some representative disabled people who experience the benefit system to act as a panel to raise issues. The Department responded:

 “Creating and maintaining a representative panel across all disability benefits is unlikely to offer value for money as it would require continuous oversight and recruitment. Given the wide range of policies the Department is responsible for, which will be of interest to different groups in society, we think having the flexibility to tailor our engagement will lead to more meaningful insight than using a standing panel. Any findings from such a panel would only be indicative and could not be used for robust evaluation to assess the impact or effect of any single policy intervention.”

The ministry did accept the fourth recommendation – the use of accessible technology – which would allow video interviews between staff and claimants – and is being trialled for Universal Credit . But that fits in with its modernisation plan.

It went on to reject a proposal to include a clause insisting on how private contractors – which do a lot of work for the DWP in assessments and interviews for disabled people – should engage with disabled people. This is a controversial issue – the Northern Ireland Ombudsman is currently investigating allegations of bad practice by contractors assessing people for benefits. But the department claims to include it would be subject to legal challenge by contractors during the bidding process for the work. Frankly if the private firms don’t want this if they want to do this type of work, it suggests to me their motives for doing the job are questionable.

The ministry also accepted a recommendation that its services should be more accessible for disabled people – and listed achievements in that area – again in line with their corporate plan.

Finally the ministry half accepted a recommendation for more leadership inside the department to enable disabled people and other claimants to have greater input but rejected appointing a non executive director to co-ordinate such a process. Instead it said it should be Chloe Smith, the present minister should do this as part of her job.

Minister’s complacent response

The covering letter from the minister said: “I am pleased to see the progress we have made in engaging with disabled people recognised in the Committee’s report. I share the Committee’s view on the importance of keeping the voices of disabled people at the heart of health and disability policy development and delivery. However, I do not agree with several of the Committee’s recommendations because I believe that we can achieve the outcomes of sustained, meaningful engagement with disabled people in ways other than those identified in the report.”

In my view the report reflects the current complacency and culture in the ministry – shown by the lack of engagement in the past over the raising of the pension age for 1950s women and the management’s top down attitude in not wanting to engage directly with pensioners, mainly women, who have been underpaid their pensions.

Incidently, in researching Chloe Smith for this article I came across a rather extraordinary story about her marriage partner, Sandy MacFadzean, a financial consultant. In September 2020 he dismissed those suffering from Covid 19 as having a ” mental illness”. He held such strong views that he went on a march run by Piers Corbyn when gatherings of more than 30 people were banned and retweeted a poster for it on his now closed Twitter account condemning social distancing, wearing face masks and opposing the mass vaccination of the population. The story was picked up by the Eastern Daily Press.

The minister defended his right to freedom of speech but said she disagreed with his stance. The discussions in their household must have been fascinating during the long pandemic.

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DWP in 2021: Record fraud, record management bonuses and record pension underpayments

Department for Work and Pensions

The latest annual report for the Department for Work and Pensions was published last week and reveals yet another litany of failures in this ministry. After a drubbing last year from Parliament’s watchdog, the National Audit Office, its accounts were qualified again making it the 34th year in succession it has failed to balance the books accurately.

This finding may also be a Whitehall record – there can hardly be another ministry in Whitehall that has so spectacularly failed to produce accounts with a clean audit sheet.

The big benefit fraud failure is again the government’s flagship Universal Credit. In 2020 it the rate of overpayments increased from 4.4% in 2019-20 to 7.5% in 2020-21. Nearly all of the increase in fraud and error was on Universal Credit. DWP estimates it overpaid £5.5 billion of Universal Credit (14.5%) and underpaid £540 million (1.4%).

In 2021  it overpaid £8.5 billion of benefits – the highest level recorded. Fraudulent Universal Credit claims account for £5.2 billion of the £8.5 billion overpaid. DWP estimates that it overpaid 14.7% of all Universal Credit payments in 2021-22, compared to 9.4% in 2019-20 (the year preceding the pandemic). DWP paused fraud and error prevention measures due to COVID-19 disruption, some of which have not yet been reinstated.

As at 31 March 2022, DWP is owed £7.6 billion of benefit overpayments, Tax Credits, and advances by around five million claimants, an increase of over £1 billion from 2020-21. DWP expects this pattern to continue until it has fully embedded new prevention measures. It recovered £2.0 billion of this debt in 2021-22, with 90% of debt recovered through benefit deductions. DWP can only recover overpayments it identifies – most overpayments are not identified and will not be recovered.

Disabled people are also suffering mainly from underpayment of attendance allowance. The NAO report says: “The estimated rate of overpayment in Attendance Allowance is 2.2% (£120 million), and the underpayment rate is 4.3%(£230 million).

” These estimates suggest that Attendance Allowance has the lowest rate of overpayment (excluding State Pension), but the highest rate of underpayment of the benefits sampled this year. Almost all the underpayment of Attendance Allowance is classified as claimant error. In previous years the Department has used Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as a proxy rate for Attendance Allowance.”

Turning to pension payment once again women are being singled out to receive the worst treatment after being underpaid for years.

Widowed pensioners left to wait 18 months to 2 years

The report says DWP now estimates that it has underpaid £1.46 billion to 237,000 state pensioners. This is an increase of £429 million and an increase of 105,000 pensioners on its best estimate at the end of 2020-21. DWP has carried out additional reviews of its records to understand the pensioners that may be affected, but the full extent of the underpayments will not be known until every case has been reviewed. DWP aims to complete its review of State Pension underpayments by the end of 2023 for two of the three affected groups2 but this deadline will not be met for the largest group, widowed pensioners, which may take until late 2024 to complete. DWP will need to significantly increase the rate at which it reviews cases.

This means if you have been widowed civil servants will not even look at what you are owed for another 18 months  and you will be lucky to get the money by the end of 2024.

However while pensioners and the disabled wait for their legally entitled payments it has been a bonanza year for the top management of the DWP. This year a record 7 of the 11 ( it was 5 the previous year) top management walked away with extra bonuses for their work. This may be due to how the department had to handle extra Universal Credit payments during the pandemic but it is startling given the abysmal report by the NAO on its control of fraud and failure to pay people the right pensions.

You will have to remember some civil servants can retire at 60 depending on what civil service pensions scheme they belong to – 6 years before the public get their state pension – with both high pensions and a generous one off payment.

This is the roll call of the beneficiaries.

From top left: John-Paul Marks, Jonathan Mills, Neil Couling, Peter Schofield, Kate Farrington, Debbie Alder and Nick Joicey. Pic credits: gov.uk

Peter Schofield, permanent secretary and accounting officer, is already on £185-£190,000 a year. He gets a bonus of up to £20,000 plus £33,000 into his pension. He has accrued enough money to retire on £75-£80,000 a year plus a one off payment of up to £170.000 and his pension pot is worth £1.394 million.

Debbie Alder, director general, People, Capability and Place,£145-£150,000 a year. She gets a bonus of up £15,000 plus £57,000 into her pension. She has accrued enough money to retire on £35-£40,000 a year. She has a pension pot of £543,000.

Neil Couling, director of change and resilience (responsible for Universal Credit).£165-£170,000 a year. He gets a bonus of up to £15,000 and £16,000 into his pension. He has accrued enough money to retire on £75-£80,000 a year plus a one off payment of up to £190,000 and a pension pot worth £1.654 million.

John-Paul Marks, who left on 31 December last year, received £105-£110,000 for nine months ,a bonus worth up to £15,000 and £31,000 towards his pension. He left with enough money to retire on £40-£45,000 a year and a pension pot worth £532,000. He is now permanent secretary to the Scottish government.

Katie Farrington, director general, disability, health and pensions ,£120-£125,000. She gets a bonus of up to £10,000 and £87,000 paid into her pension pot. She has accrued enough money to retire on £30-£35,000 a year plus a lump sum of £50-£55,000 and pension pot worth £531,000.

Jonathan Mills, director general, Labour Market Policy and Implementation,£135-£140,000 . He gets a bonus of up to £5000 and £35,000 paid into his pension. He has accrued enough money to retire on £45-£50,000 a year plus a lump sum of £80-85,000. His pension pot is worth £690,000.

Nick Joicey, director general, Finance, £150-£155,000 . He gets a bonus of up to £5000 and £36,000 paid into his pension pot. He is also the husband of Rachel Reeves, the shadow Chancellor.

He has accrued enough money to retire on £55-£60,000 a year plus a lump sum of £90-£95,000 and a pension pot worth £967,000.

I don’t think I have to say anything more and leave the reader to make his or her judgement on the state of the DWP

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Therese Coffey’s mean “pay out and grab back” scheme for the poorest elderly cheated of their rightful pensions

Therese Coffey

A new scandal was revealed in the House of Lords this afternoon which could affect tens of thousands of the poorest pensioners already cheated for decades of the right money for their pension.

The underpayments running to tens of millions – exposed by Sir Steve Webb, the former Liberal Democrat pensions minister – is slowly being sorted out by officials at the DWP though as this blog exposed earlier with the most complicated cases being delayed under a secret ” drop and go ” scheme to get the numbers up.

Baroness Stedman- Scott

The minister Baroness Deborah Stedman-Scott revealed that so far £60.7 million had been paid out to 9491 people cheated of their full pension – suggesting that some of the payments must be pretty large.

Extraordinarily she could not give a gender breakdown – which led to a rebuke from Labour peer Lord Jeff Rooker who accused her of hiding the fact that vast majority must be all women.

But then came the killer blow. In answer to a question to another former pension minister, Baroness Ros Altmann, Baroness Stedman-Scott confirmed that the poorest pensioners who got the money -mostly in their 80s and 90s – would cease to get their fees paid by local councils if they got more than £23,250 in England

Hidden bonanza for care home owners

Instead they would have to pay privately until their pension savings money fell below £23,250. Given that many care homes charge differential rates for people residing there – local authority rates are often lower than private rates – this could even be a new bonanza for care home owners – as they could get more money for providing the same services.

Baroness Ros Altmann raised the issue

This “pay out and grab back” scheme was universally condemned by peers of all parties. Not one supported Baroness Stedman-Scott who was looking increasingly uneasy at having to admit this.

She hinted that in rare cases the DWP could make a special payment to a pensioner or that local authorities could perhaps waive individual fees.

“Special payments under the DWP discretionary scheme are not routinely made to those who have been underpaid state pension. However, under exceptional circumstances, such as where severe distress has been caused by the way an individual case has been handled, a case may be referred for consideration of a special payment.”

This got no purchase with the peers. The most critical comment came from Lord Forsythe of Drumlean, another former Tory minister, who accused the government of ” hiding behind the skirts of local government” rather than take national responsibility for the change.

Lord Rooker raised the issue of 50s women and the government’s ” holiday” from funding the national insurance fund

Lord Rooker linked this action to the failure to pay out the 50s women when the pension age was raised to 66.

“The noble Baroness talks about “people” and “persons”, but we are talking about women. When was the last time tens of thousands of men were short-changed with their pension? I do not recall that happening. When the Government took their long-term holiday from paying into the National Insurance Fund, they deprived hundreds of thousands of women of the pension that they were entitled to. Why cannot that be redressed?”

Government ignores answering who is to blame at the DWP

Conservative peer Baroness Patience Wheatcroft, a former journalist, wanted to know who in the DWP was responsible for this failure to pay so many people the right pension.

“My Lords, when more than £60 million that should have been paid has not been paid, surely somebody should be held responsible in the end for that error. In the private sector, the sum of £60 million would be taken very seriously. Can the Minister tell us, therefore, who was ultimately responsible for this failure to pay such a large sum of money?”

The minister couldn’t – she just blamed it on a computer failure.

She did promise under pressure to approach both the Treasury and Therese Coffey to see if the government could introduce regulations for councils to ignore the pension back payment. But admitted she might get short shrift from the Treasury.

All this points to another blow for the 50s born women when and if they get compensation in the future. By that time many may well need social care -only to find out that they will have to give back their payments to cover their care home costs.

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Exclusive: Don’t call us, we’ll call you – the shambles inside the DWP as it struggles to cope with the pension underpayment crisis

Internal documents and screenshots reveal staff instructed to halt calls from worried pensioners and avoid complex cases to boost numbers

The Department for Work and Pensions is telling the public that it has set up well trained specialist teams to pay out up to £1 billion owed to at least 135,000 pensioners after huge underpayments were uncovered.

The real picture is one of overworked staff desperately trying to calculate with outdated computers how much money people will get while creating a knock on effect for new people applying for their first pension.

Now documents and screen shots seen by this blog reveal that staff have been instructed to ” close calls” from pensioners if they don’t fit the profile and even drop investigating complex claims for simpler ones to artificially boost the number being helped.

A new telephone message has been put on the pension helpline telling people NOT to call them and wait to be contacted instead. ” please be patient as this may take us some time.” Sometime in the worst case scenario could be December 2023. And for people who may not have long to live that is bad news. Note also it blames media coverage for the volume of calls.

Document showing the telephone message
Document showing when staff are instructed to end the call. But if someone insists they want to give them the information they have to take it down. It also shows that none of the staff can tell people hen they will get an answer and they are told not to call back. At least the ministry admits it has a large volume of calls.

Yesterday the Department launched from Newcastle-upon-Tyne its SP [state pension] Challenge – a slick management exercise to try and instill team work among thousands of staff who are trying to cope.

Screenshot showing management in difficulty with old computers in tracing pension cases

However some of the screenshots reveal how management haven’t necessary got all the information because of outdated computers.

Probably the worst example of the problems they face is the ” drop and go ” policy – where staff to boost numbers are told to abandon the case and find another simpler one. This was used during the challenge yesterday.

How they were prioritising “easy” cases to build up numbers

The official response which I got before I saw these documents is:

“Resolving the historical State Pension underpayments that have been made by successive governments is a priority for the Department and we are committed to doing so as quickly as possible.

“We have set up a dedicated team and devoted significant resources to processing outstanding cases, and have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again. Those affected will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.”

The DWP will have to respond soon to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee which has already called out the whole process as a shambles. It will make interesting reading to see how top officials and ministers spin their replies. Whatever they say the situation can’t be good if the ministry continues to emphasise it doesn’t want people to ring them.

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The 200,000 men in their 50s and 60s who can’t get jobs

Boris Johnson in full flight in the Commons. Picture credit: Jessica Taylor House of Commons

This blog has consistently highlighted the cases of 50s born women who in waiting for their delayed pension have either had to fall back on benefit or struggle on in work with serious health issues.

Now in the last two years – almost since the Covid pandemic started – the same problem is hitting men born in the 1950s and 1960s as they wait until they can claim pensions at the age of 66.

The official figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics comes just as Boris Johnson has been found out again for lying five times about the record number of jobs created during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson’s ” incorrect job figures”

The BBC’s Reality Check Team revealed that Ed Humpherson, from the Office for Statistics Regulation, had sent one of the prime minister’s advisers at Downing Street a letter saying it was “incorrect to state that there were more people in work at the end of this period than the start”.

Mr Johnson has been mixing up the number of people on payrolls, which has gone up with the number of people in work, which has not. They are not the same thing – the payroll number excludes self-employed people, In fact the number of people in work had fallen by 600,000 to 32.5 million – a point taken up by Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port, and Shadow Health and social care spokesman. He criticised the PM for providing in accurate information to Parliament.

An analysis by Rest Less , a digital community which acts as an advocate for people aged over 50, reveals startling increases in people over 50 on the dole queues

Latest figures released by ONS show that half the men who have been on the dole for more than 12 months are over 50. Comparable figures for the 18-24 age group is just 27 per cent.

While the proportion of both men and women who have been on the dole for more than a year has risen from 34 per cent to 41 per cent. This compares with a rise from 14 per cent to 25 per cent for the 18-24 year old group.

DWP plans crackdown on unemployed benefit claimants

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, commented: “Our analysis shines a light on the many individuals who have so much to contribute to the workplace, but who are being left behind by the recovery. Unemployment amongst people aged over 50 is up 23% compared with pre-Covid levels. The fact that half of all unemployed men aged over 50 have been unemployed for more than 12 months is shocking and a timely wake-up call to government and industry that we need to do more to ensure that our post-pandemic jobs plan supports people of all ages.”

And some of the cases are heart wrenching and are very similar to the plight of 50swomen trying to get jobs while being forced to live on Universal Credit.

Plight of Chris Long

One example is Chris Long from Bedfordshire.

He will turn 60 in March. According to a report from Rest Less:”  He has been out of work for the past three years.  Chris has worked in a variety of roles over the years, most recently as a forklift driver but previously in a security role and in mental health and addiction services.  He has a broad skill set as a result.

” Around the same time as Covid hit three years ago, Chris became unwell with a health condition which was later diagnosed as lung disease for which there is no cure, only symptom management.  He had to give up his job as a result.  Some days, Chris has trouble walking up and down the stairs but there are other days where he feels fit enough to work.  It has proven difficult for him to find work whilst he looks after his health and, in his own words, he says ‘I just don’t know where I fit anymore’.

Chris is currently on benefits but needs to get back to work for financial reasons.  He lives with his partner, who works, and they have an 8 year old daughter to support. “

Given the Department for Work and Pensions is now cracking down on anybody on Universal Credit who has been out of work for more than four weeks and won’t accept any job by reducing benefits the picture for him is bleak.

What employer is going to take on someone on who can’t get up the stairs unless they happen to have a policy of employing disabled people.

What appears to be happening is a double whammy for people over 50.

On the one hand the government is boasting about how successful their jobs programme has been – with the Prime Minister lying about the statistics.

On the other it looks like now both men and women who have health issues over the age of 50 ( and who doesn’t) and find it difficult to stay in work are being confined to a twilight existence until they get their pension which is being remorselessly made later and later in their lives by an uncaring government.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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