“… supportive eye rolling”.

GMWRAG is having an enjoyable “long post” period and our recent UC post was given considerable traction by social media so we’re not going to apologise for the length of this one.

Once again we offer thanks to our friends at Righstnet but before reading this it’s worth understanding what a UN Special Rapporteur actually is else the significance of the person and the action may not register.

The title Special Rapporteur is given to individuals working on behalf of the UN within the scope of “special procedure” mechanisms who have a specific country or thematic mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The term “rapporteur” is a French-derived word for an investigator who reports to a deliberative body.

The mandate from the UN has been to “examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report” on human rights problems through “activities undertaken by special procedures, including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities.”

Yes, you read that right. “… human rights problems… individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulations”. Worth bearing that in mind the day after the Public Accounts Committee heard the following surreal statements regarding Universal Credit.

“Q96 – Luke Graham MP: why do you think that food bank footfall is increasing in areas where we have full-service Universal Credit?

Peter Schofield: I don’t know. It is a really good question …”

“Q132 – Peter Schofield: …. just because you can’t measure something, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Gareth Snell MP: Like hardship?”

“Q146 – Shabana Mahmood MP: Mr Schofield and Mr Couling, just thinking about the demeanour with which you are giving evidence today, has it ever occurred to you that a little humility and a willingness to listen might go a long way towards rebuilding some trust in this process?

Chair: Mr Schofield.

Peter Schofield: No, look, well, I—

Chair: No. Thank you. That was very cat out of the bag.”

“Q160 – Chair: Perhaps you can help us out by saying which of the stakeholders and organisations are only raising issues because they don’t approve of the policy. Which of the organisations that we heard from earlier, or that you have heard from, are doing this because they don’t agree with Government policy and actually want to undermine it? Do you want to name them? It would help us to know which ones are doing that.

Peter Schofield: No, I don’t particularly want to name them here …”

“Q225 – Chair: What worries you about that? We have covered some of that today, but what genuinely worries you about what could go wrong there? A lot could go wrong. Every individual is different.

Neil Couling: I worry about the perception of Universal Credit. I am on record saying I am worried about how some of the debate is carrying on and what that is doing to claimants, making them quite fearful. There are a large number of people who will gain from this move over to Universal Credit, getting higher entitlements, but all of the media noise about it is making people quite fearful and I am worried about that…”

“Neil Couling: Yes, and I think we have good policy here, but that may be because I am the one who gave this advice.

Chair: I record for the record the eye-rolling of the permanent secretary.

Peter Schofield: It was a supportive eye-rolling. You will see that on the video afterwards.”

Anyways…

The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston (and you can read more about him here), is seeking evidence relating to poverty and human rights ahead of his UK visit in November 2018. Particular areas of interest include austerity and the implementation of Universal Credit.

Professor Alston’s visit – which will take place between the 6th and 16th of November 2018 – will focus on the interlinkages between poverty and the realisation of human rights in the UK.

Calling for written submissions by Friday the 14th of September 2018, Professor Alston highlights a number of themes to focus on, including austerity and universal credit, and he asks –

  • have austerity measures implemented by the government taken adequate account of the impact on vulnerable groups and reflected efforts to minimize negative effects for those groups and individuals?
  • what have the effects of austerity been on poverty (and inequality) levels in the UK in the last decade?
  • have the human rights of individuals experiencing poverty been affected by austerity measures?
  • how have local governments been affected by austerity measures in the last decades by, for example, administration of the welfare system?
  • what alternatives to austerity might have been considered by governments in the last decade that might have had a more positive impact on poverty (and inequality) levels in the United Kingdom?
  • what has the impact of universal credit been on poverty and the lives of the poor in the UK until now, particularly considering specific groups, including for example children, persons with disabilities, women and other groups which may be more vulnerable on the basis of their identity and circumstances?
  • what has been the impact of universal credit being a ‘digital-only benefit’ on the ability of potential claimants to apply for this benefit?
  • what has the impact been of various forms of ‘welfare conditionality’ in the context of universal credit in terms of incentivising work?
  • to what extent has the introduction of universal credit reduced the incidence of fraud and error in the welfare system?

For more information see Visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from 6 to 16 November 2018 from the UN website. You could also perhaps tweet him @Alston_UNSR.

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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.

Universally Discredited and yet still in need of a consultation?

GMWRAG is 100% (ish) confident that most of our members will by now be aware that the SSAC has launched a consultation on government proposals for managing the migration of claimants on legacy benefits to Universal Credit.

Testing of the full managed migration process will start in January 2019 with the intention to increase volumes by July 2019.

The draft Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions)(Managed Migration) Amendment Regulations 2018 – which were presented to the SSAC at its meeting on the 20th of June 2018 – set out the government’s proposals on –

  • requirements for claimants on existing benefits to make a claim for universal credit (including the deadlines for doing so) and arrangements for ending their existing benefit; and
  • the calculation, award and ongoing treatment of transitional protection.

In the explanatory memorandum to the draft regulations the government advises –

‘Between July 2019 and 2023, the final phase of universal credit roll out will take place. During this phase, the Department will manage the migration of all the remaining claimants with awards of existing benefits to universal credit.

From January 2019, we intend to start testing the full managed migration process on a small scale, with the intention to increase volumes by July 2019. This will enable us to evaluate the initial process to ensure that it supports claimants effectively. This ‘test and learn’ approach will allow us to change the process, where necessary, before larger volumes of claimants are managed migrated to universal credit.’

To help inform its examination of the draft legislation, the Committee has launched a consultation seeking views from a range of organisations and individuals and particularly welcoming case studies on the following aspects:

  • the overall migration timetable;
  • arrangements for contacting claimants and inviting claims from them;
  • issues associated with making a claim, and ending legacy benefit claims;
  • the calculation of transitional protection (including the treatment of earnings and capital);
  • the impact of proposed transitional protection (including how easily it will be delivered and the degree to which it will be understood by claimants);
  • the impact on workers, including the self-employed;
  • equality impact (whether there will be particular effects for different groups and how these can best be addressed), including whether there any groups that will not be covered by transitional protection; and
  • monitoring and evaluation.

Commenting on the proposals, Chair of the SSAC Paul Gray said –

‘SSAC is keen to ensure that the scrutiny report it submits to ministers and Parliament is as well informed as possible, and we therefore strongly encourage all organisations and individuals with relevant evidence to take part in this consultation process.’

NB – responses to the consultation should be submitted by 10am on Monday the 20th of August 2018.

For more information see Government proposal to move claimants on ‘legacy’ benefits to Universal Credit: consultation announced from gov.uk

Now, is it just GMWRAG or is there a bit of an issue here? We’re being asked to contribute to a consultation on what is in effect the final roll out of Universal Credit. What is the justification for that roll out? Anyone remember the UC pilots? The concept of “test and learn”?

In the first 6 months of this year alone a browse of Rightsnet shows we have learnt that

  • Based on its current design, the new benefit system will save only £1bn by 2022/2023, says Office for Budget Responsibility
  • In ‘Rolling out universal credit’, the NAO found that the DWP’s expectation that UC will eventually deliver £8 billion of net benefits a year – through a combination of savings from encouraging 200,000 more people into work, reducing error and fraud, and reducing the costs of administering benefits – is based on unproven assumptions.
  • The Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has called for the government to listen to the NAO and halt the roll out of UC completely and urged the actual Secretary of State to “… wake up to the misery being caused by her policy.’
  • announcing that it intends to take evidence from the DWP about the programme’s value for money and the experience of claimants under the new scheme, the Public Accounts Committee has said “The Government’s introduction of UC has been one long catalogue of delay with huge impact on people’s lives. After eight years’ work and £1.3bn spent on the project, not even 10% of claimants have transferred. Many who have moved are suffering hardship but the Department for Work and Pensions does not accept it is at fault. DWP needs to wake up and understand what is going so wrong before future claimants share a similar fate.”
  • the Treasury Committee’s March 2018 report on Childcare called for childcare costs within the new benefit to be paid either up front or direct to the childcare provider. They called payment in arrears a “fundamental design flaw”.
  • In ‘Universal Credit and Financial Abuse: Exploring the links‘, three women’s groups point out that, under universal credit, payments are made into one bank account for everyone in the household, rather than individual accounts, which risks giving more power to abusers in homes where women live with domestic violence.
  • The chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field has written to UC Director General Neil Couling questioning him about the impact of universal credit on rent arrears.
  • Almost half of UC claimants say that they needed help in registering their claim online, according to new research published by the DWP.
  • More than a quarter of the 2 million UC claims made since April 2013 have failed to result in a ‘start’ on the benefit, according to DWP statistics.
  • Whilst the research found that 98 per cent of claimants had claimed online, and over half (54 per cent) were able to register their claim online unassisted, it also found that – ‘Three in ten (30 per cent) of those who registered a claim online found this difficult, and the process of verifying their identity online was seen as particularly difficult. Overall, more than four in ten (43 per cent) claimants said they needed more support registering their claim for universal credit. Three in ten (31 per cent) said they need more ongoing support with using their UC digital account.’ Indeed, the research found that it was quite common for the claim process to take more than one attempt and, even amongst those with experience of claiming other benefits, again nearly half found it more difficult to claim UC.
  • A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation finds that benefit delays, gaps, sanctions and harsh recovery practices are common factors that tip people into destitution.
  • Led by the University of York, the final report on the five year ‘Welfare Conditionality Project (2013/2018)’ – that is based on the results of repeat interviews with welfare service users drawn from nine policy areas including universal credit, jobseekers and disabled people – finds that benefit sanctions and mandatory claimant commitment requirements do not prompt ‘behaviour change’ or provide meaningful improvements to job prospects or work outcomes for most claimants.
  • The rate of overpayments in UC has increased to 7.2 per cent in 2017/2018, up from 5.5 per cent the previous year, according to DWP statistics.
  • UC work coaches often ignore the caring commitments of single parents, according to a new report from Gingerbread.
  • Changes to free school meal entitlement under UC will create a great number of winners, but also a substantial number of losers. 13 per cent of the 1.3 million children who would have qualified under the legacy system will find themselves ineligible under UC, says IFS
  • In ‘Universal Credit: supporting self-employment’, the Work and Pensions Committee warns that the MIF rules as they now stand – with a one-year exemption for self-employed start-ups and rigid reliance on monthly income reporting – fail to deliver parity of treatment between employees and the self-employed and pay little reference to the reality of self-employed start-ups that may take years to develop and often face irregular payment patterns.
  • In two reports about UC Citizens Advice looked at the impact of work allowance cuts on people’s budgets, and explored why the MIF can leave self-employed workers at a financial disadvantage. It highlighted that a self-employed worker who receives  could be worse off by £630 a year compared to an employee on the benefit, even if their year-end earnings are identical; and households affected by the cuts to work allowances will receive an average of roughly £100 less per month.
  • Appearing on a Channel 4 Dispatches programme – Britain’s Benefit Crisis – PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka highlighted that, in a recent survey, 79 per cent of DWP staff felt that there was an insufficient amount of staff to cope with demand from claimants and 70 per cent of DWP staff want the roll-out of UC to be stopped.
  • Highlighting that the negative impacts are largely driven by changes to the benefit system, in particular the freeze in working-age benefit rates, changes to disability benefits, and reductions in universal credit rates, the EHRC reports that an extra 1.5 million will be in poverty; households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child will lose over £6,500 a year, more than 13 per cent of their annual income; Bangladeshi households will lose around £4,400 a year, in comparison to white households, or households with adults of differing ethnicity, which will only lose between £500 and £600 on average;; lone parents will lose an average of £5,250 a year, almost one-fifth of their annual income; and women will lose about £400 per year on average, while men will only lose £30.
  • the Trussell Trust highlights that between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018 it distributed 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis, of which 484,026 went to children – a 13 per cent increase on the previous year. The primary referral reasons were benefit delays (24 per cent), benefit changes (18 per cent) and debt (9 per cent);whilst referrals due to ‘benefit sanction’ have declined over the last year, those due to ‘reduction in benefit value’ have the fastest growth rate of all referrals made due to a benefit change, and those due to ‘moving to a different benefit’ have also grown significantly; and food banks that have been in full UC rollout areas for a year or more experienced an average increase in use of 52 per cent in the twelve months after the full roll-out date in their area, whereas foodbanks either not in full universal credit areas, or only in full rollout areas for up to three months, showed an average increase of 13 per cent.
  • Research from Policy in Practice shows that one in ten working-age households report earnings from self-employment., In London, 78 per cent of self-employed households on low incomes will be £344 per month worse off under UC.
  • The House of Lords voted in favour of motion to delay regulations that introduce an earnings threshold for free school meals under universal credit and stated that delaying the change would enable the government to ‘put their house in order’ and complete a full poverty impact assessment
  • Only 76 per cent of households on UC in December 2017 were actually receiving a payment, according to DWP statistics.
  • Four out of five UC sanction appeals are successful. DWP statistics also show that sanction decisions are not changed in 72 per cent of mandatory reconsiderations.
  • The universal credit Project Assessment Reviews ‘barely mention claimants’ and are ‘shot through with management gobbledegook’, according to the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field. Publishing its assessment of the reviews of UC carried out by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) and its predecessor the Major Projects Authority – which included five Project Assessment Reviews carried out between March 2012 and October 2015 and five other related reports – the Work and Pensions Committee says that the reviews ‘… are written in dense project management speak, a combination of the cryptic and the clichéd … [and] … do not examine government policy or the consequences for claimants’.
  • In the minutes of its November 2017 meeting, the Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group – that advises the government on how to provide users with a simple, trusted and secure means of accessing public services – reports that research shows that while 35 per cent of universal credit claimants can use the Verify online service, 30 per cent are not yet able to, and 35 per cent could verify online but do not. Research at a jobcentre also showed that out of 91 users, 48 needed help with the process.
  • In relation to tax credits, the Public Accounts Committee highlights that many of the 110,000 tax credits claimants who have so far transferred to UC also have tax credits overpayments that have become the responsibility of DWP to collect and raised concerns that the DWP’s greater powers to recover debts risk subjecting vulnerable people to more aggressive tax credit debt recovery attempts.

Now, hand up anyone who still thinks the legacy transfer is what the SSAC should be consulting about? GMWRAG is happy to hold our hands up and apologise for the length of this post but this is a moment to reflect on exactly how bad Universal Credit is and why it still exists, which appears to now amount to it being more expensive to get rid of it. Our trawl through the past six months of media coverage found but the one assertion by DWP as to the merits of UC. In most of the above cases they simply haven’t addressed the overwhelming evidence against the implantation of what is in effect structural poverty and destitution.

GMWRAG of course strongly encourages responses by members to all such consultations but this is one response where the terms of reference really need to be reframed by the respondents.

The minutes of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group are now available for download.

The minutes from the last meeting of the North West Mental Health Welfare Rights Advisers Group are now available for download. They will of course be permanently available in their usual location.

Additionally, presentations from the same meeting are also available for download as follows:

All of the above will also be available within the NWMHWRAG pages.

Make Childcare Work – Save The Children are campaigning to make Universal Credit work better for families and need your help.

With thanks to our friends at Rightsnet for, as ever, drawing this to our attention.

Save the Children are currently running a campaign called Make Childcare Work which is all about fixing problems with how childcare support through Universal Credit works to make the system work better for families.

To help inform the campaign, they’re looking to speak to families who have experienced difficulties with the childcare element of Universal Credit e.g. who are concerned about what’s on offer, struggling with upfront costs or worried about how they’re going to be able to afford them.

If GMWRAG members can point them in the direction of families who are struggling with these issues and who would be happy to speak with Save the Children about their experiences that would very much support the campaign.

If you know of any families, or are happy to put a call out to advisers asking them if they work with any, then they’ve a short form that families receiving childcare support through Universal Credit can fill in at
https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PYMZG3M) or they can email ukcampaign@savethechildren.org.uk and they will arrange for a member of their team to speak with them.

In the meantime you can read their response to the Treasury Committee Report on Childcare here.

NB: GMWRAG reserves the right to change every instance of “advisor” to “adviser” in every post until you all get your act together 🙂

New video from Housing Systems.

GMWRAG would like to draw your attention to yet another excellent video from our friends at Housing Systems. This time it’s all about looking at Universal Credit Monthly Assessment Periods in detail. At best this might be described as a somewhat dry subject. Whilst this video contains no exciting new concepts like “UC as a smoothie” we can say we were utterly mesmerised by the big yellow jumper/sweater which keeps appearing and the use of a pen which makes words and entire sentences appear some time after the pen has finished writing. We want one of those. Anyways, in the meantime you can watch the video at

Further Universal Credit roll out in Greater Manchester.

Full Service Universal Credit rolls out to some more areas of Greater Manchester in the next couple of months. Roll out is by JobcentrePlus and the postcodes attached to each one.

Cheetham Hill goes first on the 25th of  July 2018.  This may affect Salford residents with the post codes M7 4, M8 5, M8 8 and M8 9. The rest of Salford will go live on the 26th of September 2018.

Anyone who needs to make a new claim for one of the six “legacy” benefits that UC replaces will trigger a claim for UC.

About three months after these dates existing UC claimants on the live system will be contacted by DWP with instructions on what to do to claim on the digital system.

From about July 2019 to 2022 the DWP say the remaining “legacy benefit” claimants will have to start claiming UC.

EHRC looking for evidence re: the impact of explicit consent within Universal Credit.

It was predicted at our Oldham GMWRAG meeting that the requirement for explicit consent by DWP in Universal Credit was likely not a sustainable position in the face of the Equality Act 2010 requirement for ‘reasonable adjustments’; the oft overlooked fact that it’s for the claimant to determine what consent is given as regards their own data and the obstructive unhelpful nature of the approach which flies directly in the face of all DWP talk of “partnership”.

In light of this we are pleased to report that Jake White from EHRC is gathering evidence about the impact of the explicit consent requirement with a view to potential judicial review proceedings. The evidence accrued will determine whether such proceedings are an option.

Jake can be contacted on 020 7832 7820  or emailed via Jake.White@equalityhumanrights.com.

 

CPAG challenge to the two child limit succeeds but only in part.

CPAG have issued a statement today which reads as follows:

On 18 August 2017, CPAG issued a claim for judicial review in the High Court against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SSWP) to challenge the two child limit, introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. Permission was granted on 17 October 2017 and the case was heard across two days on 6 and 7 February 2018.

Judgment was given on 20 April 2018 allowing the challenge in part.  The Court accepted CPAG’s arguments that the ordering restriction on the kinship care exception was perverse and therefore unlawful.  The wider challenge to the policy as a whole was dismissed.  CPAG is looking to appeal this aspect of the case. Read the judgment.

The case is brought on behalf of two lone mothers, who each already had more than one child born before 6 April 2017 and gave birth to an ‘additional’ child after that date, as well as a household who would be exempt from the policy but for the fact that the child being looked after under a child arrangement order was taken in as the family’s second child before the couple went on to have a natural child of their own (the family’s third child).

Grounds of challenge are:

(i) Direct breach of Article 8 (right to private and family life) and Article 12 (right to marry and found a family) given that the policy is intended to influence intimate behaviour and bring about smaller families;

(ii) Discrimination of children with multiple siblings in respect of Article 8 and Article 1, Protocol 1 given that a child with no siblings or only one sibling has their subsistence needs met through the social security system, while a child with 2 or more siblings does not; and

(iii) The ordering or sequencing requirement to qualify for an exception is unlawful for the same reasons given in (ii) above, as well as being irrational.

In the two claimant households headed up by lone parents, one is on income support, the other on WTC. Neither of the lone mothers intended to get pregnant with the ‘additional child’, indeed one of them was on the pill at the time, but equally for moral reasons neither of them was prepared to consider terminating the pregnancy.  In the third claimant household, the father works full-time while the mother is currently on maternity leave from her part-time job.

Background

On 6 April 2017, new rules came into force limiting the child element of child tax credit (CTC) and universal credit (UC) awards to two children. In CTC, this limit only applies to a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017; in UC the limit applies from 6 April 2017 (irrespective of when the child was born) though transitional protection currently applies to third or subsequent children born before 6 April 2017. There are a limited number of exceptions to this 2 child limit meaning that it does not apply to a third or subsequent child in the following circumstances: multiple births, adoption from local authority care, kinship care and children likely to have been conceived as a result of rape or a coercive or controlling relationship.

CPAG considers that the 2 child limit unlawfully discriminates against a number of different groups including, but not limited to, children with multiple siblings, large families and those with a religious or moral objection to the use of birth control. Further, the principal policy justification for the limit is logically flawed. In its impact assessment, DWP referred to the 2 child limit as ‘ensur[ing] that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work.’ However, 70% of those claiming tax credits are already working severely undermining such a fairness objective.

It is estimated that more than 250 000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of this measure by the end of the decade, representing a 10% increase in child poverty. A similar number of children already living in poverty will fall deeper into poverty. Given such a severe impact on child poverty, the policy is in breach of the UK’s obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to give primary consideration to the best interests of the child. In these circumstances, the discriminatory treatment cannot be justified.