New DWP Demands Hit the Poor Hardest in Neath

Plans introduced today by the Department for Work and Pensions have been heavily criticised by the former Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain MP who argues they will affect the poorest in Welsh society and are further evidence on the punitive attitudes of the DWP.

Beginning this morning, individuals who receive Job Seekers Allowance and are considered long-term unemployed will have to register with their local Job Centre Plus on a daily basis if they want to keep receiving their social welfare.

However, the plan has already run into a growing body of criticism from leading charities such as Oxfam who claim that you cannot force people to volunteer and will be boycotting the programme altogether to demonstrate their disapproval.

Mr Hain said: “I find it astonishing that the government have gone through with these proposals, it just demonstrates how far out of touch with the daily conditions of people’s lives and the plight of those who are looking for work.”

“In my Neath constituency, which covers a large area in South Wales, the DWP are forcing some of my constituents to spend over half of their Job Seeker’s Allowance payment on just getting to the job centre in the first place, were you to travel from Glynneath to Neath on the bus everyday for a week it could cost you £37, JSA is normally around £55-£65.”

“Today we learn that the long-term unemployed are going to be forced into voluntary work, for which they will not get paid, and if they do not work, the state will stop giving them the pittance which many rely on. Failure to attend these meetings will result in a sanction, it is a vicious circle with only the poor suffering, how is this still social welfare?”

“This is just another effort by the DWP to save money by harming those who do not have a voice, it is the poorest in society who will suffer the most from this.”

“In places like South Wales and the North of England it still will not make a difference, if all of the jobs are in the South East of England then my constituents cannot be helped, we have already seen this with the failure of Ian Duncan Smith’s Work Programme, the only region to benefit was London, everywhere else it was a failure.”

“The cost of living crisis continues and the government pretend it has not happened and worse that it is not happening on their watch.”

-ENDS –

Plea over Jobcentre phones by Neath MP Peter Hain

NEATH MP Peter Hain has labelled a decision to remove telephones from the town’s Jobcentre as “utterly astonishing”.

Mr Hain was reacting to notices which have appeared at the Windsor Road Jobcentre Plus notifying users that the phones to contact the benefits offices are due to removed in March.

In response, a spokesman from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), said the move is to “bring Jobcentres into the 21st century”.

He confirmed the removal of Jobpoints and Customer Access Phones (CAPs), which will support the delivering of a “modern, digital service that maximises claimants’ use of online channels, encourage self-service and provide an assisted telephony service for those who need it most”.

In a letter to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Hain said: “When many constituents tell me they are often advised by Jobcentre staff to use the phones to call helplines as their query or problem cannot be dealt with in house, it is utterly astonishing that this decision has been taken.

“I strongly urge you to revise this decision.”

http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/Plea-Jobcentre-phones-Neath-MP-Peter-Hain/story-20644155-detail/story.html#ixzz2tfNTgOfz

Hain Calls For Urgent Improvements To ‘Punitive’ Disability Assessment Process

Peter Hain has called on the medical assessment company Capita to urgently reform its process before it descends into the same ‘punitive fiasco’ as the ATOS assessments from Employment and Support Allowance which caused misery for thousands of local people.

Capita is the preferred assessment provider in Wales for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) applications which replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) last April as part of the Government’s welfare changes. New applicants and those renewing their DLA award will now have to apply for Personal Independence Payments.

Growing numbers of applicants have been waiting months for their assessments to be completed after initially making the application in the summer says Mr Hain. In a letter to Capita Mr Hain said, ,’I am deeply concerned by the growing trend that is emerging around the Capita assessments for the Personal Independence Payment application and am anxious that this is dealt with swiftly and decisively before a situation similar to the protracted problems experienced with ATOS and the Employment and Support Allowance assessments develops.

‘Constituents have approached me, all with the same problem, regarding the length of time it is taking for Capita to process their application. Typically constituents placed their application in June or July, had the face to face assessment in August or September and are still waiting for the report to be sent from Capita to the Department of Work and Pensions for a decision to be made. This simply is an unacceptable amount of time for people to wait for their application to be processed.

‘Sadly the experience that I am hearing for people who have been through the process is that from the face to face assessment to the point of Capita sending the report to the DWP the system it is prolonged and inexplicably lengthy.

‘It cannot go on that people are waiting months for their assessment to be processed, causing no end of misery for the individual and their family. I ask that you review your system and ensure that applications are dealt with promptly and efficiently and in doing so the turn around on applications is drastically reduced from its current length.’

The Neath MP has also written to Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, urging him to get a grip on the situation saying, ‘I urge you to get on top of this issue now and resolve the problems with Capita and the length of time it is taking to process the assessments before it descends into a similar shambles to that of ATOS and people with disabilities are left fending for themselves. I have asked that Capita review its systems and reduce the length of time it takes them to process applications and I ask you to take actively work to ensure Capita fulfills its obligations to effectively process those applications is a timely manner as the approved assessment provider.’

Wrong to Cut Winter Fuel Allowance for Wealthy Pensioners

Huffington Post

There are three main problems with Labour’s proposal today to cut winter fuel allowances for higher rate tax payers. First the money raised is estimated at 100 million which is peanuts in terms of the wider welfare budget let alone total government spending.

Second it begs the question; if winter fuel allowances are to be means tested then how far does the means testing go, does it stop at fuel or will TV licences, bus passes and senior rail cards come next?

Third, if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through some of the few universal benefits that are left, how can we convince them to fund the larger part of that budget through their taxes? The worry is this is the top of a slippery slope towards US-type system of public services for the poor only, from which President Obama has struggled to escape with his health reforms.

The attack on pensioners’ allowances leaves a big question hovering over the future of the welfare state: is it for everyone, or just for the poor? William Beveridge’s 1942 report, the cornerstone of our welfare system, advocated a universal and contribution-based welfare state in the laudable hope of cementing social solidarity. Announcements such as todays alter that original aim dismantling the very universalism upon which that solidarity relies.

Labour’s announcement comes after a rising call from Tory Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal democrat Nick Clegg to either abandon pensioners’ winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes, or to means-test and tax them citing austerity, an ageing society and acute public spending pressures as justification.

Yet the winter fuel allowance is a symbol of social cohesion and respect for senior citizenship. In total it costs between £2bn and £3bn a year which is less than 2% of the total welfare budget; so, unless the means test threshold is so low as to be worthless, there’s not a chance of making major savings. Means testing is administratively costly, time-consuming and inefficient because of the many varied combinations of assets, capital and earnings among pensioners.

If it went further than Labour’s proposal today it would also create real unfairness at the cliff edge for pensioners on modest or low incomes who could lose a key component of their independence in old age.

While these benefits are trivial, relative to the whole budget, the social and political cost of taking them away could be huge: what would this say about a society of soaring bankers’ bonuses?

For lower earners these benefits are a few comforts guaranteed to them in old age, for middle to higher earners one of the few rewards received for consistent contributions to the welfare pot throughout their working lives.

Finally today’s Labour announcement raises the troubling question as to whether the Party is being dragooned into accepting Tory-Lib Dem spending plans after the next election.  Ed Balls’ otherwise brilliant demolition of the catastrophe wreaked by the Tory Lib Dem scorched earth economics leaves that question unanswered in his speech today.

Read More

———

The attack on pensioners’ benefits could destroy social cohesion

Guardian

The secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, says in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that he “would encourage” better-off pensioners to pay back their taxpayer-funded benefits voluntarily. This follows Nick Clegg calling for the means-testing of a range of benefits for pensioners, and Paul Burstow, the former Liberal Democrat minister for care services, suggesting the money saved should be channelled into elderly care reform.

There’s clearly a rising call, either to abandon pensioners’ winter fuel allowances, free TV licences and bus passes, or to means-test and tax them. Austerity, an ageing society and acute public spending pressures are cited in justification.

This is simply mendacious, because the savings proposed would be a drop in the ocean compared with the overall welfare budget.

The winter fuel allowance costs between £2bn and £3bn a year; so, unless the threshold is so low as to be worthless, there’s not a chance of being able to fund a new elderly care programme.

Means-testing TV licences and bus passes would raise little more than £1.4bn a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. If, as the government has done with child benefit, benefits are removed from pensioners in the top tax bracket, the amount raised would be even less – about £250m, which is less than 1% of the total welfare budget (about £160bn) or 0.1% of total government spending. Frankly, the cost of all these pensioners’ allowances is peanuts. To lower the threshold for means-testing would be administratively costly, time-consuming and inefficient because of the many varied combinations of assets, capital and earnings among pensioners.

It will also create real unfairness at the cliff edge for pensioners on modest or low incomes – especially those in need of more fuel or frequent travel because of illness, who could lose a key component of their independence in old age. Thousands of such people in my constituency alone have been liberated by free bus travel.

While these benefits are trivial relative to the whole budget, the social and political cost of taking them away could be huge: what would this say about a society of soaring bankers’ bonuses?

For lower earners these benefits are a few comforts guaranteed to them in old age, for middle to higher earners one of the few rewards received for consistent contributions to the welfare pot throughout their working lives. They are a symbol of senior citizenship and social cohesion.

Arguing that Sir Paul McCartney and other pensionable millionaires are receiving free bus passes at the expense of lower- or nil-rate pensioner taxpayers wilfully misses the argument for universal benefits. I doubt that Sir Paul uses his entitlement to a free bus pass – but, even if he did, he pays for it many, many times over in high taxes.

The worry is this: if middle Britain ceased to benefit from the welfare state through at least some universal benefits, why would they still finance the lion’s share of it? The danger is a US-type system of poor law, from which President Obama has struggled to escape with his health reforms.

The attack on pensioners’ allowances leaves a big question hovering over the future of the welfare state: is it for everyone, or just for the poor? In his epoque-defining report in 1942, William Beveridge advocated a universal and contribution-based welfare state in the laudable hope of cementing social solidarity. Now, 70 years later, that hope of cohesion is disintegrating as the Tory-Lib Dem government dismantles the very universalism upon which that solidarity relies.

Cutting or means-testing pensioners’ allowances risks turning young against old and rich against poor while making negligible savings for the Treasury. All parties should be challenged to maintain them in their 2015 manifestos, as they did in 2010, and Labour should certainly stick by the policy.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/28/attack-pensioners-benefits-destroy-social-cohesion