Final preparation for the GMWRAG meeting in Trafford. Final agenda now available.

Everything is now in place for the next GMWRAG meeting in Trafford on Friday the 19th of October 2018. As usual this is a full day. Most of the details you need to attend can be found in our previous post.

The minutes of the last meeting remain available in the usual place and, as ever, we would prefer that you print these off in advance and bring them with you to the meeting to minimise the work of the meeting hosts. The agenda for the day is also now available and can be downloaded from here. As with the minutes, please bring your own copy if you can.

As per previous posts, this is going to be a busy meeting with a very tight agenda in a limited space. Anyone who turns up on the day assuming they can roll up spontaneously as per most GMWRAG meetings may find that we cannot accommodate them. We appreciate this is unusual but the room holds a maximum of 50 people and we are confident we already have 45 plus people attending including our 4 guests.

Equally, please do not turn up just for our guest speaker. This is a working day with very specific aims for the GM area and whilst we welcome all participants we need people to be there for the full day else it becomes unmanageable. If you wish to attend please contact GMWRAG via the usual routes.

Rumours that we’ve ordered a take out from the food hall at the Trafford Centre at lunch time are wholly unfounded, although if anyone wants to offer…

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Liverpool report on “Universal Credit Unintended Consequences”.

GMWRAG is pleased to see yet another report talking in depth about the consequences of the introduction of Universal Credit. We’re not sure about the title. Are the consequences of UC FS really unintended? Were they really not obvious some years ago? GMWRAG thinks that’s a generous interpretation but anyway here’s a short video of City of Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson introducing the report. We are aware that a number of you may be viewing this in the workplace and may not have access to a sound card. Regrettably subtitles are not available. We have commented to this effect on the above video.

However, you can read the full report here and we look forward to hearing the response from Esther McVey in due course.

“A useful step forward but we need to keep walking.”

GMWRAG is an intermittent fan boy of the work being posted on the Inequalities blog. Unless you have been living under a rock you may also be aware of the announcement of a new poverty measure this week. It would appear DWP have been living under a very shaded rock as a quick glance at their web site suggests nothing is going on with poverty at all but the employment rate is at a “near record high“. We suspect this translates roughly as “a bit better than it was”. Anyway…

Ben Baumberg-Geiger of the Inequalities blog has written an interesting article about the steps forward in the new poverty measure and the deficiencies. You can read the full article here. GMWRAG also recommends the thought provoking “The need for right-wing research” from the same author.

The sorry tale of how GMWRAG received a response to our first ever Freedom Of Information request; missed a chance to do some DWP wide research and learnt more than we possibly intended.

On the 13th of August 2018 GMWRAG made a Freedom of Information request to DWP via our new WhatDoTheyKnow account. You can read all about the context for that first request in our post of that date but it’s worth reiterating the basics here.

On the 3rd of August 2018 @neilcouling posted the following tweet.

“Nice end to the week. UC claimant on work experience in jobcentre tells whole of DWP, UC is better than JSA, feels more customer-friendly, giving people responsibility for their money means work less of a culture-shock, that change is inevitable but this one is welcome.”

@GMWRAGtweets has enjoyed “bants” with Mr. Couling previously and we’re well aware of an infamous occasion claims were made of being inundated with thank you cards from claimants who had been sanctioned. The final number could be described as something less than “inundated” unless DWP are now using a dolls house sized letter box as the front end for mail handling.

We have no idea whether the above account is controlled by Mr. Couling (or perhaps a “UC claimant on work experience”) but the above tweet provokes more questions than answers and Mr. Couling wasn’t very forthcoming.

We probably don’t need to comment further on the phrase “UC claimant on work experience in jobcentre”… but we will! We think the very concept of “work experience in jobcentre” begs a question as to what on earth JCP think they’re doing? Why would you place anyone on work experience in a jobcentre? If you can do it for one why can’t you do it in all (recognising the problematic nature of doing it in even one JCP)? What safeguards are in place if the work experience doesn’t work out? Is the work coach the supervisor? And so on… ad nauseam.

However, our more immediate concern was that this was someone giving out a message which offers a perspective on UC which flies in the face of all the evidence accepted by the Public Accounts Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee and the National Audit Office and in the context of doing work experience in, of all places, a JCP. So, this would be someone who not only seemed unlikely to have had any issue with the fluctuations inherent in UC in other situations and is therefore potentially largely uniformed by the wider issues but also who looks from the outside to have said something which at worst looks potentially coerced given that the language used, to most reasonable people, does not appear to be the language of a claimant. Indeed it bore remarkable similarities to those leaflets the DWP had to concede contained case studies of claimants who weren’t exactly real!

So, GMWRAG elected to ask a simple question? Which jobcentre? When we didn’t get an answer we decided to just keep asking. Every day!

At first we couldn’t any response at all but then, after 5 days Mr. Couling denied we’d asked him anything.

“Think you need to check back on your twitter history. I don’t recall you asking me anything. This tweet suggests you have asked a local jobcentre? But if I missed a tweet from you apologies”.

By this time we had, of course, on the 4th of August 2018 asked every JCP on Twitter in the UK whether this inspirational claimant had been at their office. We didn’t think this was unreasonable. Weren’t these the same JCPs who had claimed to be so responsive on social media that they had once prevented a claimant setting out to sign on in those notorious “adverse weather conditions” less then 10 minutes after they’d been asked if they were open! Yes, they were.

At the time of writing, a mere 40 days later, not a single one of those JCPs has shown enough social media manners to offer us a polite response. Not a “Sorry, not us”. Not a peep. Were there to be a storm of biblical proportions it seems most unlikely any JCP would be able to offer up a response in 9 minutes.

On the 8th of August 2018 Mr. Couling finally responded that this “… wasn’t from a jobcentre, which perhaps explains why jobcentres haven’t responded.”

Well, on one level, we had achieved a little more clarity, albeit only in the sense that we had established that blood wasn’t likely to leak from a stone any time soon. On the other hand, are we truly alone in thinking that an organisation which gets asked a questions and fails to acknowledge that even if only to confirm that they couldn’t help is best described not as “customer friendly” (to hark back to our original concern) but simply unprofessional? If GMWRAG members received a query from a client or another government department or indeed just about anyone, and simply failed to answer does “unprofessional” not leap out as the obvious adjective?

GMWRAG then asked, not unreasonably, if not in a JCP, then where. Mr. Couling was on fire now. He came back with the brilliant phrase “Sure, social media.”. We then asked which account and… silence.

ON the same day GMWRAG then found the account of one @AfrikKwame who quite remarkably had tweeted (on the 29th of March 2018 mind you) the words

“@JTomlinsonMP @ MMorley_JCP @Director_LHC I’m Deaf and loving my work experience at Barnsbury JC, coaching non-Deaf UC claimants into work.”

Putting aside that this means that work experience in a JCP is actually “a thing” we didn’t think this was our man (more on this later) but Mr. Couling then tweeted the astonishing

“This exchange reminds me of the bit from the Life of Brian where a follower says “only the true messiah denies his own divinity”. Brian replies “well what chance does that give me?”. Noted you never accept anyone might be happy with UC. I’m listening why not reciprocate?”

Two days earlier Mr. Couling had accepted an invitation to the October GMWRAG meeting! He then clearly set about doing some serious listening as his Twitter account fell mysteriously silent…

You can read the full text of the DWP response here. Like us you may wonder at how the DWP intranet translates into “social media”. Despite encouragement from elsewhere we think it would be futile to pursue this angle. Whilst most of us think of social media as specific platforms like Flaccidbook or Witter, it can be defined sufficiently loosely for Mr. Couling to be able to get away with the use of the phrase in connection with a post or broadcast on an intranet. See here for an example.

We do now have the full text of the voluntarily provided feedback, which reads

“I’m doing work experience at the job centre and I’m on UC. In my opinion UC is
much easier for customers than the old JSA system, it feels much more customer
friendly. Also, giving the customers full responsibility for their money is less of a
culture shock when we enter into full or even part time employment. I do
understand that some of the staff are concerned about the possibility of a heavy
workload due to the change of procedure, however, I think that once the change is
implemented, it will make the whole process smoother for all. In every system
change is inevitable, but I can tell you now, to me this is a very welcome one.”

GMWRAG is willing to listen to arguments that the above is real. The extent to which it was voluntary is open to discussion and ditto the extent to which the above is couched in the language of a claimant as opposed to a broadcast by DWP. However, the matter is not at an end. Indeed we have just tweeted @AfrikKwame to ask if they were in fact the person in question. Watch this space.

Brilliantly, it appears that when DWP posted the above responses they managed to not only fail to fully redact the name of the relevant claimant (too late folks, it’s apparently been sorted) but also managed to post a link which enabled a user to message the whole of the DWP! Yes, you read that right. GMWRAG of course missed the boat on this once in a lifetime opportunity to do some research in partnership with the DWP and that has been taken down also. Bearing in mind that UC is intended to be wholly digital and DWP is currently looking to migrate UC to a cloud computing platform. Let’s not even start on online ID verification. GMWRAG is both mildly amused and simultaneously horrified that such basic errors and data breaches continue to occur. It appears one little question can open up a whole can of worms.

Mysteriously, @NeilCouling is back on Twitter as of today! Perhaps someone lost the password and just found it in a journal!

The same “long read” as last time but possibly in a more digestible format and with a different title.

Back in July 2018 GMWRAG published a long read via TruPublica titled “Research Paper Update: State Crime By Proxy: Corporate Influence on State Sanctioned Social Harm”. You can read that post here and the actual article here.

The whole thing has now been formally published by the Centre for Welfare Reform and is available for download as a pdf by clicking below. The new title is the much more understandable “Preventable Harm and the Work Capability Assessment”.

If you want to know how we ended up where we are with the WCA, and why, then this is an essential read. The same caveats we wrote last time probably still apply.

The ink still wet minutes of the probably not even finished last meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group.

The minutes of the latest meeting of the NWMHWRAG are already available as are the notes from the talk on claiming the mobility component of PIP for people with mental health conditions. Both documents will as ever be stored permanently within the relevant NWMHWRAG pages, and if you wish to check you’ll find they’re already there.

Related to the above the RF High Court Judgement can be found at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2017/3375.html and there is an addendum to the notes from the talk:

Psychological distress is defined in the Interpretation to the PIP descriptors as “distress related to an enduring mental health condition or an intellectual or cognitive impairment.”

Spring cleaning and a useful resource.

The attention of GMWRAG has been drawn to the excellent leaflet and form produced by Rhondda Cynon Taff CAB and Suffolk Law Centre to give to a work coach to request reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. A formal request to Jobcentre Plus must produce a response addressing each of your points. This will be useful to take into a first interview when the claimant commitment is being drawn up, or at any point along the line to get it reviewed.

The leaflet is for JSA but obviously would work for UC/ESA as well. You can download a copy from here. GMWRAG believes nothing bad comes from Wales, so there.

Additional to this we want all our members to note that there is a new “Equalities and human rights” forum on Rightsnet. We suspect advisers are going to find this invaluable in the face of the onslaught from Universal Credit full service.

Additional to the above GMWRAG has been doing our annual (well, okay, biannual) spring clean of the web site. This involves testing that all links on the right hand panel of the site remain live (as usual a number were not). As ever we’d appreciate it if members could let us know if they find anything which doesn’t work properly.

You’ll also see a few old posts disappear. Nothing essential. So this will be things like job adverts that we’ve archived on various pages and posts about things to download like minutes which are also stored permanently elsewhere.

A human rights approach to welfare conditionality.

Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group members Sian Jordan and Jo Chimes recently went to the Welfare Conditionality conference in York  and presented a paper. The PowerPoint presentation and the paper itself have kindly been made available to GMWRAG and we think they are well worth sharing, particularly in the context of the approach being advocated by GMSCG itself. The conference website also has the slides and paper along with lots of other really great presentations which are well worth a read.

In the meantime have a read of

A rights based approach to conditionality – the presentation.

A human rights based approach to conditionality – the paper.

and lets not forget the fantastic Welfare Conditionality site itself.

Those of you with an ongoing interest can follow the work @EqualityACRH on Twitter as well as Jo herself @chimesjo. Both the above documents will be permanently available as part of the GMSCG pages where we have just this minute added a News page for exactly what Father Ted would call “this sort of thing”.

Minutes of the last GMSCG meeting and much more.

The minutes of the March 2018 meeting of the Greater Manchester Strategic Casework Group are now available for download. They will be permanently available within the GMSCG pages. Please remember that they will be password protected. Contact GMWRAG if you need that information.

Owing to events beyond our control the next full meeting of the GMSCG has not been set although a small working group will be meeting later this month to review progress and set the agenda for the rest of 2018.

In the meantime, those of you on social media may like to head over to @GMWRAGTweets to be entertained by our ongoing conversation with Neil Couling about Universal Credit. GMWRAG has extended an invitation to Neil for him to attend our October meeting in Trafford but as yet he’s not responded.

This was all triggered by our recent post on the SSAC consultation on Universal Credit, which in barely a week became the most viewed post in the history of the various iterations of the GMWRAG web site and has been retweeted by MPs and more. It is now likely that a further more detailed post focused more on UC (i.e. less on the SSAC) and over a longer period. Watch this space.