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. “
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, 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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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.
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, 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.
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The Department for Works and Pensions has compounded the big scandal over millions of people who are entitled to compensation for the ministry’s hidden decision to scrap an annual increase worth anything up to £27,000 over the lifetime of a pension for those, particularly women, who were contracted out of Serps by private companies.
Previous blogs highlighted this scandal after the Parliamentary Ombudsman ruled that there was maladministration in not telling millions of people that they would lose out when the new state pension was introduced in 2016. Only two people were compensated with sums of £500 and £750.
But the Ombudsman wimped out in enforcing the compensation for millions by allowing the DWP two years to take action to compensate people and then allowing them to create a factsheet which didn’t tell the full story.
Suspicious that the DWP was still avoiding to do anything a campaigner on this issue, Chris Thompson, put in a freedom of information request to the DWP to find out how many people have asked to be compensated,
The answer has now come back. The DWP said:
“We can confirm that we hold information falling within the description specified in your request. However, we estimate that the cost of locating, retrieving and extracting the information for these requests, when aggregated, would exceed the appropriate limit of £600. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for central Government it is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information.”
This was only asking about emails and letters the ministry had received since August 12 this year – a matter of a few weeks- it is rather suspicious if not laughable that this would take more than 3.5 days to find out. Surely the department would have a simple database to do a computer search.
Suspicion that nobody or few people have contacted the DWP
Mr Thompson suspects there is another reason.
” I think the reason the DWP don’t want to give me the information is that no one has contacted them or only a few which would show up by putting it on GOV.UK so that people only find out by happenchance which is not very satisfactory. For GOV UK to be a suitable way for people to find out about loss of GMP indexation then a majority of the 11 million people should see it. I wonder if they did any sort of assessment to find out how many people they thought would find the fact sheet on the GOV.UK website.”
Again this bodes badly should the women born in the 1950s and 1960s achieve compensation for maladministration over the up to six year delay in receiving their pensions when the age was increased from 60 to 66. It sounds like the government won’t be very helpful in telling people how many were compensated.
However they may be another way to get hold of what is happening or rather what is not happening.
Following some lobbying by Mr Thompson and myself Stephen Timms, the Labour chair of the Commons works and pensions committee, plans to tackle the government over this omission.
He has been promised a six month review by the ministry on how the use of the factsheet is working.
He told us that he intends to write to the ministry in December demanding that as part of the review they disclose how many people have applied for compensation.
This means whether they like it or not the DWP will have to spend some money and time finding out – unless they are going to tell Mr Timms that it is too expensive to do the exercise. We shall wait and see but for some of the people who don’t know they are entitled to this money – it could be a matter of life and death – as they may already be in bad health and could die before they realise.
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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.
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.
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?
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A highly critical National Audit Office report today exposes major shortcomings in the running of the country’s state pension system.
With some 12 million people relying on the Department for Work and Pensions to calculate their pension accurately the auditors reveal a sorry picture of outdated IT systems, civil servants reduced to making manual calculations and mistakes galore with no proper system to identify the errors in the first place.
The NAO investigation was triggered when former pensions minister Liberal Democrat Sir Steve Webb and Tanya Jefferies of ThisIsMoney.co.uk, last year started to refer a number of cases to the Department of women who had been underpaid. On 26 May 2020 Sir Steve published an estimate of the level of underpayments using the
information obtained from the Department combined with public information from the Family Resource Survey that at least 220,000 women had been underpaid including 131,000 married women, 56,000 widows and 35,000 divorcees.
90 per cent of the losers are women
Now the department has admitted that 134,000 people have indeed been given underpaid pensions and it will cost £1.053 billion to compensate them. This figures excludes those who have already died because the department wipes them from its records after four years
Once again 90 per cent of them are women, and only 10 per cent men.
What is particularly alarming is the summary in the report about the whole pensions system.
It says: ” The errors occurred because State Pension rules are complex, IT systems are outdated and unautomated, and the administration of claims requires a high degree of manual review and understanding by case workers. This makes some level of error in the processing of State Pension claims almost inevitable.
“The Department’s caseworkers often failed to set (and later action) manual IT system prompts on pensioners’ files to review the payments at a later date, such as their spouse reaching State Pension Age or their 80th birthday. Caseworkers also often made errors when they did process prompts because frontline staff found instructions difficult to use and lacked training on complex cases.“
Worse the department seem to have a top down approach to find out about errors – rather than a bottom up from the pensioners themselves who might challenge their pension awards. Therefore it never picks up a large volume of similar complaints.
Wrong assumption that there are no errors
As a result there always been the assumption – and it was taken until now by the National Audit Office- that there was virtually no fraud or error in the payment of the £100 billion plus to pensioners every year. This has now been proved wrong.
The ministry is recruiting 544 people – at a cost of £24.3 million – to chase up and pay out the money to people who have lost out. But it is going to take some two years to do this with priority being given to the over 80s and widows. It has no plan on how to compensate relatives of dead pensioners owed money- and the NAO think it should create one.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said
“Many pensioners – most of whom are likely to be women – have been short-changed by thousands of pounds which they are still yet to receive many years later.
“DWP must provide urgent redress to those affected and take real action to prevent similar errors in future.”
A DWP spokesperson said:
“We are fully committed to ensuring the historical errors that have been made by successive Governments are corrected, and as this report acknowledges, we’re dedicating significant resource to doing so. Anyone impacted will be contacted by us to ensure they receive all that they are owed.
“Since we became aware of this issue, we have introduced new quality control processes and improved training to help ensure this does not happen again.”
Fourth pensions scandal to hit DWP
However one must comment that this is the fourth scandal to hit the DWP over the payment of pensions and women are by far the worst treated. First we had the 3.8 million 50swomen not being properly informed about the raising the pension age which the Ombudsman has found there was maladministration. Then we had the complicated story of people losing their guaranteed minimum pension uprating which could affect 11 million people, mainly women. Again the Ombudsman found maladministration but only two people have been compensated. And now we are also having delays for people claiming their pension for the first time in getting paid.
Cynics might conclude the ministry is almost misogynist in its approach – and also all these delays is ensuring more people -particularly in the age of Covid- will be dead before they get the money that is owed to them.
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You may remember I wrote a long article on a decision taken by the Government to no longer provide an index linked guaranteed minimum pension to millions of pensioners when they new pension came into force. The blog is here.
This decision never debated in Parliament meant the government has got away with not paying out anything from a £1000 to tens of thousands of pounds over the lifetime of their pension, depending on how long they were contracted out by their employer from the old SERPS scheme. The numbers could be as high as 11 million.
The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Robert Behrens, was asked to investigate and came to the conclusion that there had been maladministration and two people shared £1250 compensation. Unlike the row over the 50s and 60s born women who lost out by not being informed by the government over the rise in their pension age, no record exists, as far as I can find out, of the ministry repealing this provision in the 2014 Pensions Act.
And the man responsible for piloting that legislation, Liberal Democrat minister Sir Steve Webb, while publicly championing millions of women pensioners who have been underpaid by the ministry, is strangely silent about this issue which is he must be responsible.
What has happened since has taken morality and standards in Whitehall to new depths and exposed a level of deviousness and dishonesty among civil servants and cowardice in the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s Office that fittingly goes with a government headed by a serial liar.
In September 2019 the Ombudsman gave the ministry three months to sort out this issue. His proposals were quite clear. He asked the ministry to “review and report back on to us on the learning from this investigation, including action being taken to ensure that affected individuals receive appropriate communication from the DWP about their state pensions.
“ln particular, the DWP should ensure that their literature clearly and appropriately references that some individuals, who have large GMPs and reach State Pension Age in the early years of the new State Pension, may be negativity affected by the changes. The DWP should advise individuals to check their circumstances, and should provide instructions for how to do this;”
Sweet nothing happened
So what happened? Sweet nothing. The DWP ignored the deadline and then produced a factsheet which I know from correspondence the Ombudsman clearly felt did not fit the bill. But after one attempt to get this changed the Ombudsman dumped the issue and wimped out of getting the ministry to implement their recommendations.
Their press office told me: “
“We closed this case in November 2020 after working with the Department for Work and Pensions on compliance. At this point we referred the case to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, to oversee DWP’s ongoing work in this area. They will hold the Department to account on the actions it has agreed to take.“
Actually the communication got lost and the committee knew nothing of this to the following April.
The DWP to cover its back claimed when challenged said:
“Working with the Ombudsman, we have now published information on gov.uk about this complex policy area and welcome anyone who wants to know how they have been affected by the policy change to contact us.
“Publishing this factsheet is the final step in the DWP meeting the requirements of the PHSO findings in relation to the way the GMP indexation policy change was communicated.”
It turns out that the Ombudsman agreed to this tardy response.
23 month delay
What finally happened was on August 12 in the middle of the Parliamentary recess, the department 23 months after being asked put out a publication notice amending its guidelines. The link is here.
I can’t imagine a more devious method about informing people and Parliament about this – in the middle of the August holiday. It is designed not to be seen.
Furthermore it does not comply with the recommendations which is why I say it is dishonest. There is no reference as you will see to the Ombudsman’s report, and the fact that people could be entitled to compensation. There is no mechanism for people to apply for the compensation and the notice was not even accompanied by a press release.
The losses are considerable for some people – about £27,000 for some women over the lifetime of their pension – but the information does not spell that out properly. Indeed all the DWP had to do was copy and paste as I have – a table from the Government’s Actuary Department ( at the bottom of this blog) which provided an ” oven ready ” guide to the losses.
Pathetic consultation using ignoramuses
A pathetic consultation process was held by the DWP – where they sought out the most ignorant people about pensions to comment- and only found seven out of 40 who agreed.. We only know this because the Commons Works and Pensions Committee published the details – the ministry itself has not published it.
There are probably millions of people who should at least get £500 in compensation but Therese Coffey, the secretary of state, is determined that nobody should know about it. It does not bode well for the 50s and 60s born women over their pensions compensation. She has already said the Labour Party should compensate the women not the taxpayer.
In a few weeks time Britain will be playing a pivotal role by hosting the Cop 26 international climate change conference in Glasgow.
Tight targets are going to be set which if not met will mean even more dramatic weather catastrophes than we are seeing now as the planet warms up.
So is Whitehall up to the job? If one takes the first example of action to save energy the answer is a resounding no.
A damning National Audit Office reveals an extraordinary poor performance by BEIS – the business and energy ministry – in getting 600,000 homes – mainly owned by low income families updated with new home insulation to cut their fuel bills and save energy.
The Treasury had earmarked £1.5 billion. The ministry ended up spending only £314 million. Its 600,000 homes target was missed by over 550,000. The administration costs were astronomical – for a scheme that provided grants of up to £5000 or £10,000 for low income income families – it cost over £1000 per house. Instead of of 600,000 saving up to £600 a year in fuel bills – only 47,500 will benefit.
And it should have provided a much needed job boost providing work for 82,500 people during a time when work was in short supply Instead it created just 5,600 jobs before the scheme was closed down last March.
Worse still both customers and contractors were badly treated. Delays paying contractors and customers getting their vouchers led to over 3000 complaints.
Why Sarah Munby is to blame for this fiasco
Who is to blame for such a mess? The answer must lie with the permanent secretary, Sarah Mundy. She is supposed to be this new business friendly appointment bought into government by the Tories to shake up Whitehall. Her biog on the gov.uk website said: “Sarah joined BEIS in July 2019 as Director General, Business Sectors. Before that, Sarah worked at Mckinsey, where she led their Strategy and Corporate Finance practice in the UK and Ireland.
“She has worked with some of the UK’s largest companies to change their strategic direction, and led much of McKinsey’s work on productivity across the UK economy.”
But she in no way lived up to her billing. To be fair HM Treasury gave the Department an over-ambitious 12-week timescale to design the scheme, consult with stakeholders and procure an administrator.
This came at a time when the Department was supporting vaccine procurement, and undertaking activities related to EU Exit. The Department accepted that delivering the scheme within this timescale posed a high risk, but judged it was justified by the need to support businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A US global company’s cheapskate bid
But it is at the back of the NAO report that her real failings show up. She was obviously entranced by business to use a new state of the art digital voucher system and gave the contract to ICF, a US global consulting and technology company, based in Fairfax, Virginia. The report reveals they put in a cheapskate bid. Their technology was not up to the job as shown by repeated reviews of failures in the digital voucher scheme. This led to the scheme having to managed manually- which is why it cost £1000 per house.
The NAO said: “ICF’s proposed costs for the development of the digital solution were less than half that of the second cheapest bidder, triggering the need for a review under government contracting guidance. The Cabinet Office review concluded there was not enough information within the bids to understand specific costs, and thus whether any adjustment should be made for a low bid.”
But it came back to Sarah Munby. She ignored the Cabinet Office. Having chosen the contractor she was then warned by every single contractor asked to undertake the work that it couldn’t be done in time. But she still went ahead.
Whitehall sceptics ignored
And the same came from inside Whitehall. The Department presented the Scheme’s full business case to its Project and Investment Committee on the 28 September, ahead of the Scheme’s final approval for launch on 30 September last year. The Committee decided not to approve the full business case, raising concerns that the digital systems for the Scheme were not yet fully developed and tested. They were right but still she ignored them and went ahead. Within six months it had to be abandoned and it is largely her fault. As a result hundreds of thousands low income families have lost the chance of cutting their energy bills this winter.
One can only agree with the verdict of Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
“The Green Homes Grant scheme was set up to fail, with an undeliverable timetable and overly complex design which took little account of supplier and homeowners’ needs….
““Government cannot hope to achieve its net zero ambitions if it doesn’t learn the lessons from this botched scheme.”
A major blueprint for how the United Kingdom can transform its laws to end all forms of discrimination against women and properly implement the UN convention ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has been published by the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.
The 252 page report written by Jocelynne Scutt, with the backing of a researcher team,, proposes to end the piecemeal implementation of parts of the UN Convention Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination, both in national law and in different parts of the UK.
Its conclusion said: “The proposal now made by the CEDAW People’s Tribunal that the United Kingdom seize the opportunity now presented to it and introduce a Women’s Bill of Rights into the United Kingdom Parliament provides
a real opportunity to do this – create a climate where women’s rights are truly recognised as human rights, and human rights as women’s rights – with the United Kingdom taking the lead.”
it says it is time to replace fine words by politicians on women’s rights with deeds and includes comprehensive proposals backed up by research for almost every conceivable area of British life to improve the rights of women. Indeed in the space of one article it is impossible to encompass every area of this report – you will have to read and study it for yourself.
The shortcomings of the Equality Act
Some of the more dramatic findings reveal shortcomings in the 2010 Equality Act – which is probably the UK’s major contribution to women’s rights – both in sections that have never been implemented and the fact that its provisions don’t apply to Northern Ireland – which the present government insists should remain an integral part of the UK.
To back up that last point the report said:
” No devolved authority to have the power to undercut or reduce the provisions, extent or scope of the Women’s Bill of Rights and to address any potential conflict or proposal by any devolved authority to do so, the UK Act to include a provision prohibiting its terms from being excised from operation in the devolved jurisdictions. This provision to be based in the principle herein stated, namely that all women of the United Kingdom, wherever residing, are entitled to equal rights without being deprived of them by reason of residency in any devolved jurisdiction.”
But it does not rule out as Scotland and Wales introducing their own legislation both to improve any UK Act or if the government doesn’t introduce any legislation for Scotland and Wales to go ahead with their own law as they are proposing to do now.
The report also insisted on widespread training for lawyers and public officials on what CEDAW means.
“That the Women’s Bill of Rights include a provision making it mandatory for members of the judiciary and magistracy at all levels to receive education and training on an initial and regular basis, including remaining up to date with CEDAW jurisprudence, and that this provision extend to all holders of public office, whether by appointment or election, in international, national and local bodies and authorities.”
This is a point I felt during the Court of Appeal hearing on the judicial review of women’s pensions that the judges did not seem to have a clue about CEDAW – and in my view this contributed to their decision to throw out the case.
It also makes it mandatory for every piece of legislation to have a gender impact assessment and for all government departments to have a gender impact assessment for every new policy they introduce. Since women are the majority in this country I would have thought that to be essential.
The report picked up that many women do not understand their rights because it is not presented in simple and clear language and the information is not available ( take the 50swomen case in informing women about the rise in the pension age for example).
The ” whole person ” approach to women’s rights and discrimination
There is also a failure to connect discrimination against women to other serious forms of discrimination. As the report said:
“The discrimination of women based on sex and gender is inextricably linked with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men. States parties must legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them.”
Where is particularly bad the report said the government should use “special measures” – specific legislation to address the problem – to end this inequality.
The report looked at major policy issues such as Brexit, climate change, the Covid 19 pandemic and the Windrush scandal and how they affected women.
It quoted evidence on how these separate issues impacted on each other. One passage read:
“The evidence further provided a snapshot view of the rise in hostility in the lead-up to, the confirmation of, and the continuing aftermath of Brexit. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated this, in that because Black and minoritised women (along with their male counterparts) have been in the forefront – both as doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and cleaning staff in hospitals, and suffering from being more susceptible to the virus – this has militated against their interests in the community, too – drawing racist attacks as if they are to blame because of that greater susceptibility”.
It tackled controversial issues such as migration, asylum seekers, women being detained in prison and made strong recommendations on how to deal with these issues. And it dealt with the lack of equal pay for women, and being forced by the partners into credit debts -coining the phrase ” sexually transmitted debt.”
” Sexually transmitted debt”
“This term, coined by lawyer Jenny Lawton and barrister Emma Swart recognises the position of women who, believing
their signature does not ‘count’ and under pressure that is difficult or impossible to counter, sign contracts – including mortgages and guarantees – at the behest of husband or partner, plunging them into debts they did not envisage, from which they do not profit, and which they did not wish to accumulate. Not infrequently, this occurs with the complicity, to a greater or lesser degree and even amounting to collusion, with banks or other financial providers.”
It also looked at faith marriages among the South Asian community which are not recognised by civil law and how they can lead to polygamous marriages, trafficking and women left with nothing in a divorce settlement.
This gives you an idea both of the breadth of issues covered by the tribunal and the need for widespread reform in many areas to give women full rights. And I haven’t touched on violence against women and domestic abuse.
This is truly a major document and a basis for major campaign to change the entire approach to women’s rights. Read it, digest it, and go forward and campaign for change.
The headline in this story is a paraphrase of an extraordinary letter to be sent out to 15,000 people randomly chosen by the Department for Work and Pensions. Some 180 pensioners are being contacted this month.
The ministry has mounted an exercise to check fraud and error in payments for the state pension alongside universal credit, attendance allowance, PIPs, carer’s allowance, pension credit, housing benefit, and the employment and support allowance. It is run by the Performance Measurement Team. The ministry are asking people on other benefits to send them original documents showing their savings, pay slips, rent books and tenancy agreements.
It comes as the ministry faces a potentially damning report from a National Audit Office inquiry into the underpayment of state pensions to tens of thousands of women under the old state pension system replaced in 2016.
The NAO want to know how these mistakes occurred , what is being done to put them right and what lessons have been learnt. The NAO made it clear yesterday it had nothing to do with this exercise mounted by the DWP.
This also comes on top of a finding of “maladministration” by the Parliamentary Ombudsman over the ministry’s failure to inform 3.8 million 50swomen adequately about the rise in the pension age from 60 to 66.
The letter reproduced above is pretty insensitive to say the least – since it will be going to elderly people aged anywhere from 66 to their 80s and 90s.
Onus put on pensioners not the DWP
As you can see it puts the onus on pensioners to answer questions correctly-with the threat of prosecution or fines if they don’t.
” You have a personal responsibility to make sure all the information you give during the call is correct and complete.
If it isn’t and we pay you too much money you may have to pay the money back. You also risk being prosecuted or having to pay a financial penalty.”
But it gets worse. Under the heading What will happen if I do not hear from you it says:
“If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped. ( Bold type my emphasis).
This is “coercive and threatening language”- Rosie Brocklehurst
Rosie Brocklehurst from St Leonards, is one who got the letter and contacted me.
She saId: “There could be 15000 terrified pensioners receiving this letter all of whom are being threatened with having their state pension. stopped if they do not “make themselves available.” This is abusive coercive and threatening language in my lexicon.”
She is 71. She said: “The letter they send out is couched in language that is designed to frighten and certainly frightened me. I am not well and have had a chronic condition for 18 months. I have no other income but state pension and pension is not means tested. I am married and claim nothing else but my pension..”
Two points First you have to claim your pension but the calculations are done by the DWP. So if the figure is wrong it is not your responsibility, it is theirs and there is a history of the ministry getting things wrong.
The second is you are entitled to your pension. There is no way the DWP or anybody else can take it away from you. Whoever drafted that letter should have changed it for pensioners. I suspect that it may be illegal for the government to stop pension payments which they have already calculated. Certainly if the grounds are not agreeing to be interviewed.
I have contacted the DWP press office but they took over two days to reply. This is their reply;
“We urge people not to worry. We would only suspend payments in very specific circumstances such as where a pensioner has died and we are continuing payments.
“These reviews, introduced in 1997, take a sample of claims from across several benefits to help us identify cases where the department has paid the wrong amount.”
“The wording of our letters is kept under constant review.”
However what does it not say is that the state pension was exempt from all reviews since 1997. A decision to include it was taken in February this year. No explanation was given why the ministry suddenly decided to include it.
Rob Behrens, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, today published his report finding there was maladministration by the Department for Work and Pensions in issuing advance warnings over the rise in the pension age for women born in the 1950s and 1960s.
The report – as previously revealed on this website – is little changed from its draft version – and still insists that up to 2005 there was no maladministration over telling the women that their pension age would rise. After that the report says there were delays.
Amanda Amroliwala, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman CEO, said: “After a detailed investigation, we have found that DWP failed to act quickly enough once it knew a significant proportion of women were not aware of changes to their State Pension age. It should have written to the women affected at least 28 months earlier than it did.
‘We will now consider the impact of these failings, and what action should be taken to address them”
The decision to publish the first part of the investigating before announcing whether the women will be compensated is unprecedented. But according to the press office ” this is because it is the most important investigation we have done” and ” there is a lot of public interest”.
The report is now laid before Parliament and MPs will be able to press the government about its findings.
Andrew Gwynne, joint chair of the All Party Group on the State Pension Inequality for Women, said:
“This report is a landmark moment in the ongoing fight for 1950s women to receive justice, and a vindication of what campaigners have been saying for years. The PHSO has conducted a thorough investigation of a number of complaints and found that there were failings in the actions of the DWP in communicating changes to State Pension.
The DWP must urgently address these findings and advise 1950s women what actions they will take to right the wrongs committed by successive Governments. For too long 1950s women have been ignored, and this must change.”
The question is now what will happen next. The report is the first part of a three stage process.
What happens next?
The next stage will be to examine how badly the women were affected by this process. According to the press office this may not be just examining how the six complainants were affected but will look wider. It is not clear at this stage how this will be done and how long it will take.
Then there is a third process -deciding how much compensation the women will get. It will be nothing like the sums of money women lost – often adding up to as much as £50,000 – but is more likely to be hundreds or low thousands.
Again it is not clear whether the Ombudsman will publish these two processes separately or just issue a final report.
My guess – and it is only a guess- is that this may take a year.
Even when it is published the Department for Work and Pensions will need time to respond and a lot will depend on the timetable the Ombudsman gives them to respond and compensate people.
If I take previous cases involving the DWP- the six will get their compensation within a month- while the remaining millions will have to wait. Also the Ombudsman cannot compel the DWP to compensate them – but pressure from MPs should ensure that people will eventually get the money.
The 3.8 million women and those born in the 1960s are still a long way from justice despite this ruling today.
Previous stories on my blog on this issue are:
I haven’t gone into much detail on the report as you would have read it when I published the draft on June 7.
Those who want to see the report It is here.