In other news: disability and workfare

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Independent living for disabled at risk from cuts, say MPs

Independent living for disabled people is being put at risk by the combined impact of cuts to social care and benefits, MPs and peers warned today.

Cuts to care and different benefits are interacting in a “particularly harmful” way for disabled people and many service users fear they will be forced into residential care as a result, Parliament’s joint committee on human rights said in a report.

It cited increases in eligibility thresholds for social care, the closure of the Independent Living Fund to new claimants, cuts to housing benefit and the replacement of disability living allowance by personal independence payment, which will see 500,000 people lose out on the benefit.

The committee called on the government to assess the cumulative impact of these cuts on disabled people and consider the introduction of a right to independent living.

Your top ten disability cuts

1) Scrapping disability living allowance and replacing it with the personal independence payment from 2013 for working-age adults. This reform, which will include a new assessment system, is designed to cut the number of claimants by 20%, meaning 360,000 people will lose out on support, saving the government £360m in 2013-14 and £1.075bn in 2014-15.

2) Scrapping the mobility component of disability living allowance – worth up to £50 a week –  for publicly-funded care home residents and children in residential special schools. This money pays for transport for residents to leisure activities or to visit friends. It will affect 80,000 people, saving the government £135m a year.

3) Cutting social care support for severely disabled people through the Independent Living Fund. The ILF is now closed permanently to new clients. This means that people who would previously have had their council social care packages topped up by the ILF will have this no longer. The ILF itself will be scrapped from 2015 onwards, raising questions about the future funding of existing claimants.

4) Social care cuts. Councils with social services responsibilities in England face average cuts in their budgets of 4.7% next year on the government’s figures. Many are increasing eligibility thresholds or means-tested charges, both of which will hit disabled people’s access to care and income levels.

5) Supporting People cuts. Councils are planning average cuts next year of 17% from their funding of supported housing schemes for groups including people with learning disabilities or mental health or substance misuse problems, a survey has found.

6) Welfare cuts for incapacity benefit claimants following reassessment. 1.5m incapacity benefit claimants will be reassessed on their fitness to work from 2011-14, using the controversial work capability assessment. The government expects 23% to be deemed fit for work, meaning they will be transferred to jobseeker’s allowance, meaning they will lose £25 a week or more.

7) Cuts for employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants. This is a big one. The government expects to save £2bn in 2014-15 by time limiting ESA (the successor benefit to incapacity benefit) for some claimants to one year. Those losing out will be those found to have some future prospect of working, with support, who claim ESA on the basis of national insurance contributions not on the basis of their low incomes. This comes in from 2012.

8) Cutting the rate at which benefits increase each year. This apparently technical change – it means the value of benefits will increase in line with the consumer price index rather than the typically higher retail index – will net the government almost £6bn a year. This will affect DLA, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance and employment and support allowance and make many disabled people and their carers poorer than they would otherwise have been.

9) Cutting mortgage interest relief. The National Housing Federation has estimated that 64,000 disabled homeowners could be at risk of losing their homes due to the government’s decision to reduce support with mortgage interest payments for them by cutting the interest rate at which support is given.

10) Housing benefit. Many disabled people will be affected by the cuts to housing benefit, and there have been warnings that many will be driven into further poverty and possible homelessness. An estimated two million disabled people live in the private rented sector and many will be affected to the cuts to the benefit, which include capping payments and cutting housing benefit levels by 10% for those who have been on jobseeker’s allowance (and many more disabled people will be on JSA due to point 6 above).


Youth contract ‘only helping one in ten’

Only one in ten young people will be aided by the government’s youth contract policy, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) claims in a report released today.

The report also claims the unpaid work experience scheme is not helping young people find work.

The government, it says, needs to be more ambitious if it is to reverse some of the highest rates of young unemployment in years.

Paul Bivand, who authored the report, said: “It is vitally important that actions to help young people can be shown to work. Young people themselves want to know this, so do co-workers in the workplace, and so do the employers who are placing their reputations at risk.

“We would hope that good quality work experience with training would have a small positive effect compared to Jobcentre Plus support, but the evidence needs to stand up to critique. We are not there yet.”

It recommended the introduction of a job guarantee scheme, the strengthening of regulations on apprenticeships and the establishment of a government goal that by 2020 young people in Britain should be as well qualified for jobs as those in any other developed country.

The report also claimed that 51% of young people who have been on the Work Experience program are no longer claiming benefits after 13 weeks. This figure, however, is roughly the same for all young people.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that the government’s austerity policies like tuition fees and the scrapping of the EMA have made things worse for young people.

He echoed the fears that the new youth contract would not be nearly sufficient.


“The sanction regime remains in place”

It is reported that sanctions have been removed from the DWP’s “Work Experience” scheme, which is one of five workfare schemes which compel people to work without pay on threat of welfare sanctions. But is this another example of the DWP’s willingness to mislead the public?

There is no sign that sanctions have been lifted in the DWP’s press release which states: “The sanction regime remains in place.” Chris Grayling seems to be painting a murkier picture in TV interviews. Speaking to Sky, he first claimed “If somebody sits down with [the employer] after a couple of weeks and says ‘This really isn’t working out, I don’t want to carry on’, they wouldn’t be sanctioned. I was happy to agree to that.” But by the end of the interview, he offers an example which suggests that it will be in exceptional cases only that sanctions won’t be applied.


With workfare, the devil is in the detail, and until the DWP publishes some we’re inclined not to trust a department which this week has edited official documents to remove references to workfare being mandatory. If DWP Work Experience were no longer compulsory on threat of benefit sanction, then this would be a big step in the right direction, and we could expect jobseekers to receive letters like this one (currently sent to 16-17 year olds who are not mandated to take part) rather than its usual letter. But it does not seem that this is the case and either way we should beware that George Osborne said of the scheme: “Young people who don’t engage with this offer will be considered for mandatory work activity”.

Thousands of people of all ages are still forced to take part in workfare schemes that compel people to work unpaid. 850,000 people are expected to be referred to the Work Programme, which can include six months of workfare, by the end of this year alone. Another 24,000 people have already been placed on Mandatory Work Activity, and the Community Action Programme criminalises the unemployed by sentencing them to six months of unpaid community service. It is not at all clear whether today’s news affects the Work Experience component of the Sector Based Work Academies, a fifth mandatory scheme.

Importantly, today DWP also reported that they would expect people on ESA – a benefit for sick and disabled people – to begin on the Work Programme within 3 months. People placed in the “Work Related Assessment Group” by ATOS can face unlimited workfare placements.

Most people have two problems with workfare: that it is forced and that it is unpaid. There is evidence that workfare replaces paid work and no evidence that workfare schemes have created a single new job. The companies who continue involvement with the government’s schemes can afford to pay the people doing the work but they choose not to.

In fact, businesses should beware that legally they may owe jobseekers working in their stores the minimum wage. Until the last week’s cover-up, the government advice for Work Programme providers stated: “Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.” (See the chapter 3, point 14 of the guidance before and after.)

The government is clearly under pressure: in the last two weeks, thousands of people have taken action to end forced unpaid work in the UK and the campaign continues to gather momentum. Workfare affects all of us: it is replacing paid work and undermining the minimum wage. That is why this issue will not go away.

Thirty actions against workfare are taking place across the UK on Saturday 3rd March. Asda, Barnardos, British Heart Foundation, Holiday Inn, Pizza Hut, Savers and Wilkinsons are using workfare through the Work Programme. There are hundreds of others. Take action with us!





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