DWP Christmas and New Year information now out.

We have attached the two fliers from DWP advising first of all when payments will be made over the forthcoming week and opening times for the Christmas and New Year period.

Whilst we hesitate to suggest there are green shoots of recovery we note that GMWRAG has been able to advertise job vacancies with relative regularity for the first time in a good while. We’re also confident that, by the time you’ve read this, and for the first time since 2013, numbers visiting the site have risen. There has been a slow but noticeable decline which we associate with the plain simple fact there have been less of us doing the work. That decline is now over and will be further arrested when we unleash our new section (which some of you may have already noticed) imminently.

If you stare at this page for long enough (not long in reality) then the GMWRAG site will of course start snowing for you (although we like to think it’s weeping at welfare reform!) so GMWRAG would like to of course take this opportunity to wish our members a peaceful Christmas and all the best for 2017.

Benefit uprating 2016 to 2017

The government has announced the new benefit rates to be introduced in April 2017.

Further to the Treasury’s publication last week of the new tax credit, child benefit and guardian’s allowance rates, the government has today published the proposed DWP benefit and pension rates for 2017/2018.

The proposed benefit and pension rates 2017 to 2018 are available from gov.uk. Separate links are available as follows:

There are a small number of potentially misleading elements to this which our friends at Rightsnet are busy noting. Check out this thread for further information.

GMWRAG has noted that Carer’s UK has welcomed the increase in the earnings limit for carer’s allowance, albeit that this is pitifully small. No-one else is shouting from the roof tops? You will of course note the number of benefit rates which remain frozen although it’s good to know that, presumably with his irony meter switched off, IDS is on our side on this! For an alternative perspective on what these cuts mean (and for many people they are undoubtedly further cuts) there are plenty of real world accounts out there like this.

Consultation on supported housing.

This has, to say the least, rumbled on for a good few years, but we are now at the stage when another attempt to resolve it has been suggested. So, the Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for Work and Pensions have now published a new consultation on the detail of the future funding model for supported housing from April 2019. This will obviously be hugely significant for a number of our members.

The consultation lasts for 12 weeks from the 21st of November 2016 until the closing date of Monday the 13th of February 2017. Everything you need to know can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/funding-for-supported-housing.

At the same time the government has published the evidence review of supported accommodation in Great Britain.

Queries and responses can be sent via email to supportedhousing@communities.gsi.gov.uk or you can write to the Department for Communities and Local Government, Supported Housing Programme, Fry Building, 3rd Floor, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF

IMPORTANT: The world turned upside down. Twice over.

You may recall GMWRAG expressing serious concern recently about a government consultation titled “Transforming our courts and tribunals.” We wrote about it at length and it’s worth reading again to remind yourselves that this wasn’t just about reducing the number of people who form a tribunal panel. It was also about the end of oral hearings (although it was hidden away in the original document). There’s also lots of the original post which bears repeating about the background to this.

You (well, we) would expect that at the point DWP are putting up such a consultation they would of course have decided what they wanted and know what they were doing. It is bemusing therefore to have to report that one consultation has now become two and has even acquired not one, but two, separate closing dates.

So, those of you (like us) who were busy writing your responses for the 27th of this month may want to take a deep breath and take a look at the following.

The “Transforming Our Justice System” consultation, which had a closing date of the 27th of October 2016 has been superseded by two separate consultations:

Transforming Our Justice System: Assisted Digital Strategy, Online Conviction and Statutory Fixed Fines – This has a closing date of the 10th of November 2016.

Transforming Our Justice System: Panel Composition in Tribunals This has a closing date of the 24th of November 2016.

With no irony whatsoever, this was due to an administrative error where two documents (the Online Convictions/Statutory Fixed Fine Impact Assessment & Equalities Statement, and the Panel Composition Equalities Statement) were not uploaded correctly when the consultation launched on the 15th of September 2016.

So, to summarise!!! Government can mess up an electronic consultation through a simple failure to upload documents correctly and wants to introduce an appeals system involving, amongst other things… uploading of documents!!!

GMWRAG has no words other than to wonder why our members would need further encouragement to respond to both of the above.

The relevant page can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals. It includes seven associated documents. On current evidence we cannot confirm whether you’ll be able to open them 🙂 or whether there’s more to come. However, the links to the two specific consultations can be found at

Responses already written on the basis of the original consultation, or already written and submitted will be accepted and taken into account.

In the meantime if anyone wants to start a petition for there to be a (paper) consultation about whether government is capable enough to hold online consultations…

[twitter-follow screen_name=’GMWRAGtweets’ show_count=’yes’]

NAWRA submission re: the abolition of Attendance Allowance.

NAWRA has submitted a response to the “Self-sufficient local government: 100% business rates retention consultation” voicing their concern at the proposal that Attendance Allowance will no longer be a cash benefit in England and Wales when responsibility for it transfers from the DWP to each local authority’s social care budget.

If you didn’t realise that the abolition of AA was a real thing then please refer back to our previous items on this

One of the biggest reallocations of public resources in 25 years, and

More information on the abolition of Attendance Allowance as we know it.

Always keep in mind some people said Universal Credit would never start!!!

The submission is available on the NAWRA website. The deadline for submissions has now passed.

Thanks very much to Julie Henry (Durham County Council) for drafting it.

Agenda for the Trafford GMWRAG meeting now available.

The agenda for the Trafford GMWRAG meeting can now be downloaded here. For those of you who struggle to read more than one post on here all the information you need in order to attend has been collated into this one post.

The meeting will take place at Sale Waterside. Our hosts will be Trafford Welfare Rights Service. As ever this is not to be confused with Sale Waterside Arts Centre, which is a few feet away. The one you’re heading for is this one.

For those of you who can’t even get as far as opening the agenda (and we do know who you are) this is a full day meeting and will open at 9:30am with refreshments and our usual informal welcome of “Who’s that?” “I don’t know. Maybe it’s Wigan!”.

The formal meeting will start at 10:00am and the a.m. session will end at around 12 midday. We restart informally at 1:30pm with refreshments and “Sorry, where did you say you were from again?” and “What do you mean all the biscuits were eaten this morning?” The formal restart will be at 2:00pm when our speaker for the afternoon will be Louise Tanner, Safeguarding Adults Learning And Development Officer at Manchester City Council.

“Safeguarding Adults: – the first 15 years: from “that’s not my responsibility” to “it’s everyone’s business”.

  • Introduction to government guidance. ‘No Secrets’ in 2000 up to the statutory framework in the Care Act in 2015/The impact of the Mental Capacity Act (2005).
  • An overview of DWP ‘safeguarding’ and how knowing about the Carers Act and Mental Capacity Act can support advisers and claimants.
  • Discussion/Question and answer session.”.

Those of you not familiar with current issues around safeguarding, vulnerability and the DWP may like to read the following from our friends at Rightsnet:

http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9141

http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9705

http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9051

http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9328

http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9328

http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9980

If you want to know any more then please read the agenda. It would also be more than a little useful if more than one person had the minutes of the last meeting with them for the item titled “Minutes Of The Last Meeting”. You can find them all on a page on this site coincidentally titled “Minutes Of Previous Meetings”. The ones you want can be found at the top of the page.

In terms of transport (we have done ALL this before but nevertheless…) we recommend you set your Sat Nav to M33 2AE.

Directions Waterside is just 20mins from Manchester city centre by road or Metrolink. It is situated in Sale town centre next to the Bridgewater Canal and directly opposite Sale Metrolink Station. From the M60 exit junction 7 and take the A56. From the station, cross the road and turn left.

Parking A 300 space Q-Park multi-storey car park is within easy walking distance on Broad Road, at which Sale Waterside Arts Centre ticket holders can claim a 20% discount. You can find more information here (Q-Park Sale Waterside). The postcode for the Q-Park is M33 2AE.

Now, any questions? None! Good. See you there 🙂

Powerlines: New Stories From The Urban Edge at the Manchester Literature Festival.

This years Manchester Literature Festival, features an event on the 20th of October 2016 which will be of interest to all GMWRAG members, If you can’t go, maybe send details to your local DWP, local councillors or your MP!.

The project began following a discussion with ex Manchester Advice worker, David Gaffney, about the lack of real, genuine voices around the subject of welfare ‘reform’ and benefits in general. In particular annoyance (to put it mildly) about the DWP inventing stories to justify sanctions.

The idea was discussed of using the Manchester Literature Festival, to create a platform  for the ‘real’ stories (from those on the sharp end of the benefit system) to get a hearing. A bit unusual for a literature festival but worth giving it a go. The festival were keen and so Church Action on Poverty were approached to become a partner (based on their previous work in this area and direct experience of working with them around financial inclusion). A successful bid was made to the Arts Council for funding, participants recruited, workshops ran and now material gathered. Other partners include The University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing and Salford City Councils Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service.

The evening will be a mixture of pieces (poetry, prose, visual, audio), the vast majority of which will come directly from the participants themselves.

Five artists have worked with people in Salford to explore the lives unfolding far beyond the aspirational city of artisan coffee shops and slick new builds.

Join poet Jo Bell, graphic novelist Darryl Cunningham, sound artist Gary Fisher, short story writer David Gaffney and novelist Stephen May as they place these stories centre stage.

These stories will make you cry, laugh and shout with rage at inequalities perpetuated by a social security system that is no longer social or secure.

Steve Quinn from Salford Welfare Rights and Debt Advice Service was asked by David to write a short piece in the first person, from an advisers perspective, which we may use in the run up to the festival. It may or may not chime with your experience, but hopefully it contains something that you can recognise. Powerlines will shed light on some of the too-little considered realities of life in the Northern Powerhouse.

You can find out details and even hear a sound trailer here.

Please download and circulate the flyer for the event.

Tickets are free but the performance space has a 100 person capacity. We expect more people to take tickets than attend and so if people can’t get tickets online we would still encourage them to attend.

Tickets can be obtained here.

Public Accounts Committee progress review inquiries into Universal Credit and Benefits and Tax Credit Fraud and Error.

The Public Accounts Committee has announced two “progress review inquiries” with a very short-deadline for responses to both of them of Tuesday the 12th of July 2016.

The first inquiry will look at progress on the six recommendations made by the committee in February 2015 in relation to Universal Credit and

  • improving transparency around costs and progress;
  • developing contingency plans; and
  • strengthening accountability to get better value for money for taxpayers

Further information can be found on the PACs web site.

The second inquiry seeks views on how HMRC and the DWP have addressed problems of overpayments and underpayments identified in its last report

In a previous report on fraud and error in October 2015, the Committee made a number of recommendations including

  • HMRC should set regular targets for reducing fraud and error in Tax Credits during the move to Universal Credit;
  • the DWP must set out how it will target the causes of fraud and error remaining after welfare reform;
  • both departments need to improve understanding of why claimants make mistakes, and use this to develop better preventative measures; and
  • both should set targets for reducing underpayments.

Again, further information can be found on the PACs web site but please bear in mind those exceptionally tight deadlines.

If you want to watch the progress of these inquiries live then check out Parliament Live TV.

Welfare Action Gathering – Saturday the 9th of July 2016 in Manchester.

Boycott Welfare poster for Welfare Action meetingBoycott Workfare will be holding its 3rd Welfare Action Gathering on Saturday the 9th of July 2016  at The Mechanics’ Institute, 103 Princess St, Manchester M1 6DD
between 11am – 4.30pm. The event is supported by Unite Community Manchester. They’re inviting groups and individuals from across the country to join them.

They will be coming together in Manchester to share ideas, tactics and concerns about current and future attacks on welfare. It will be a day of learning from each other and an opportunity to plan how to work together to continue to defend these fundamental rights.

Previous gatherings have seen the sharing of a huge wealth of knowledge and acted as catalysts for further successes in their fightback. At a time of continuing attempts to undermine basic rights to welfare and dignity, it is vital that those opposing these injustices come together in solidarity, to support our related struggles and exchange our expertise.

Workshops

The day will be arranged around participant-based workshops, with opportunities for less structured discussions.

Themes for workshops so far include:

  • What does Universal Credit mean for welfare activists and claimants? How will the landscape of welfare change under Universal Credit? What are the opportunities for fighting back? Where should this fight-back focus its energies?
  • Strategies for activists – how can claimants and non-claimants work together to challenge sanctions and workfare?
  • Fighting the the misuse of psychology in workfare and welfare – a workshop from Mental Health Resistance Network.
  • Making use of health and safety rules to combat exploitation. What are the rights of those being sent on workfare? How can these rights be used to prevent workfare?
  • Leaflets and Communication: analysis and strategy sharing. What gaps are there in terms of knowledge sharing? Which leaflets have been successful and effective? What makes them useful? What have been successful strategies for online communication? Where are there gaps? How can we support related campaigns and organisations?

We’ll also be screening some films

If you would like to help lead or facilitate one of these workshops, please get in touch. Likewise if you have an idea for a further session, or if there’s something that you think it’s important to cover that isn’t addressed at the moment, please suggest it. The broader the range of voices and ideas, the better. Contact Liam at info@boycottworkfare.org.

Food, Transport and Access

Obviously, no-one (despite what the DWP believe) can work on a empty stomach, so free and tasty lunch, snacks and refreshments will be provided. Boycott Workfare also have a budget for helping with transport costs to and from the gathering, for those near and far, so please get in touch about this too.

The Mechanic’s Institute is a 0.4 mile walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station. The venue is fully wheelchair accessible. A creche will be available throughout the day.

This Welfare Action Gathering offers a chance to celebrate our successes, share how they were achieved, and to focus our energies on the future struggles ahead. It also offers an opportunity to put faces to the names of people that you have been communicating with. There’s a Facebook event here.

Go and join then for a day of information sharing, discussion, bonding, and fun!

Contact Liam at info@boycottworkfare.org to register your interest or if you have any queries.