Friday, 24 March 2017

Is the DWP's under-resourcing of Universal Credit helpline a means of torturing poor people?

At Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group's weekly business meeting on Thursday 23 March, though we warmed to the page 2 prominence given to Camden New Journal's news story published the same day 'Universal Credit: Claimants "stealing food" to eat due to benefit delays: Finance chief warns people are being forced into new debt',(1) we were very concerned at what to us seems a fundamental error in one sentence of that report.

That error concerns the length of wait for Universal Credit payments to be processed. The CNJ's Richard Osley reports:
'In some cases, people are waiting up to six weeks before claims are processed....
'A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Under Universal Credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. Our research shows the majority of UC claim­ants are comfortable managing their budgets. We’re working with local authorities and landlords to get extra support to people who may find themselves in arrears. “We’ve been rolling Universal Credit out gradually so we have time to ensure it works in the right way.”''(2)

Déjà Vu?

"Waits as long as six weeks for benefit claims to be processed" and "unacceptable" telephone helpline service standards are nothing new and pre-date Universal Credit and even the 2010 General Election. In November 2006 Community Care magazine reported:(3)
'Earlier this month, MPs slammed Jobcentre Plus for leaving 21 million calls unanswered. Despite government claims of improvements, stories of poor service continue to mount, Neil Bateman argues.
'Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is the arm of the Department for Work and Pensions that administers benefits and job search activities  or people under 60. It was set up in 2001 as a key part of the government’s welfare-to-work reforms, the aim being that people could obtain advice and help on benefits and job-seeking under one roof.
'Since the announcement in 2005 that DWP had to lose 30,000 staff over three years, on top of other spending cuts in the department, concern has been growing in the social care and welfare rights fields about the deteriorating standards of service provided by JCP. There has been concern about the effect on vulnerable customers, particularly care leavers, those with sensory impairments and people with mental health needs who have greatest difficulty with the JCP one-size-fits-all approach to customer service.

'Welfare rights advisers and social care specialists identify problems with JCP, including:

● Delays in processing claims and changes of circumstances – six weeks is common – leaving people destitute.
● Communications between different parts of JCP “not being received”.
● Huge difficulty accessing JCP by phone.
● JCP staff insisting that all benefit claims are made by phone, when the law does not state this.'

Is Universal Credit helpline's under-resourcing aimed at destroying the economically vulnerable? 

Where our 'experts by experience' would disagree with the CNJ's report is that we believe the report should state, 
'People wait a minimum of six weeks for claims to be processed.' 
Those delays are exacerbated by the income fluctuations caused by means-tested processing of Universal Credit claims in zero hours economies; and the DWP's deepening reliance on 'pay-as-you-go' call-centre service delivery that  penalises economically vulnerable people for their vulnerability and is arguably designed to discourage people claiming their entitlement.

Now, as the CNJ reports:(4) 
'Telephone calls [to the Universal Credit helpline] can cost up to 55p a minute from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes. Wait times to speak with an adviser can be very long – one claimant in Camden has reported that their phone bill for a month was over £140, used almost entirely on calls to the DWP.”
That is an all-too-common experience, leading in many cases to rent arrears and subsequent evictions. The reality is that such waits are now far more common and cannot be ignored, and also that 'austerity' cost-cutting in public services has eliminated council welfare rights units. As Neil Bateman has said in response to my sending him an earlier edition of this response to the CNJ article:
'If we thought things were bad back in 2006…'
This sickening system leads more and more people to sickness and suicide, while the DWP refuses to take lessons from coroners courts,(5) and insists instead that disability benefit claimants be reassessed every six months as standard. If this system is 'fit for purpose', what is its purpose?

For those who have fallen

Against that backdrop, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group will be highlighting local benefits-related suicides on Monday 3 April as follows:
  • 12 Noon: Assemble outside Kilburn Jobcentre, Cambridge Avenue, NW6 5AH for rally with 
    • local Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, 
    • PCS (jobcentre workers union) National Executive Officer Zita Holbourne and 
    • Brent Trades Council Executive Committee.
  • 12:45: Black Flag march to Paddington Cemetry via Kilburn High Road.
  • 13:30: Address at Leon Burmont graveside by 
    • Dawn Butler MP and 
    • RMT Political Officer Cat Cray.
  • 14:00: Prince of Wales PH, Willesden Lane NW6 for Tea & Sandwiches.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Behind the 'Improving Lives' smokescreen of the Dept of Health and the DWP

The 'Improving Lives: work, health and disability' Green Paper 'consultation' closes today.(1)

The UK Parliament website says of 'Green Papers':
Green Papers are consultation documents produced by the Government. The aim of this document is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to  give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals.
Copies of consultation documents such as Green Papers are available on the related departmental websites.(2)
The 'Improving Lives' Green Paper is put out jointly by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health (DH). The ordering and content of the questions asked in 'Improving Lives' help reveal that this document is apparently aimed far more at 'deliverers of services' than disabled people as experts by personal experience witnesses themselves.

Chapter 1: Tackling a significant inequality [Questions start on p 88 of the printed document, which is p 91 of the online document]

  • What innovative and evidence-based support are you already delivering to improve health and employment outcomes for people in your community which you think could be replicated at scale?
    What evidence gaps have you identified in your local area in relation to supporting disabled people or people with long-term health conditions? Are there particular gaps that a Challenge Fund approach could most successfully respond to?
  • How should we develop, structure and communicate the evidence base to influence commissioning decisions?(3)
Given that kind of line of questioning, do not expect the answers to really help sick and disabled people find true support in improving their own lives on their own terms!

For far more incisive reading, Disability News Service reports:

Spartacus exposes work and health green paper 'smoke screen'

Campaigners have published a withering 237-page attack on the government’s work, health and disability green paper, accusing ministers of creating a “smokescreen” to disguise their intention to cut support and force sick and disabled people into inappropriate work....(4)
In short, 'Improving Lives' is not really about empowerment of disadvantaged people, but about more firmly establishing sick and disabled people as commodities by which parasitic corporations obtain money from the public purse. It is about stripping us of our rights rather than helping us to enforce them.

Blogpost posted by Dude Swheatie of Kwug

Reference links


Thursday, 2 February 2017

'I, Daniel Blake' for 21st Century enlightenment

The 'branding strapline of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is '21st Century enlightenment'.

Thus it is highly appropriate that the RSA will be screening the Ken Loach film 'I, Daniel Blake', and has tagged the promotional blog about the screening: employment, public services, social justice.(1)

RSA Screens: I, Daniel Blake

Tuesday 21st February 2017 at 18:00 - 20:15
Great Room Auditorium, RSA House
For further details go to

Reference link


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

DWP ministerial nominations and equal opportunities?

Honorary KUWG member Kate Belgrave reflects — or in her words 'rants' — upon Employment Minister Damian Hinds' spurious claim that as more and more people claim benefits online, the need for jobcentres becomes obsolete.(1)

Leaving aside his obvious lack of grasp regarding reasonable adjustments for claimants with very low level or non-existent literacy and computing skills, what do the appointment of Damian Green as Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and another Damian — Damian Hinds — as his Employment Minister, infer about Equal Opportunities within the prospective selection pool of candidates for DWP ministerial office?(2)

And would not such key policy decision makers be much better employed perusing the Kate Belgrave | Talking with people dealing with public sector cuts blog — complete with knowledgeable comments — (3) than the delusional, policy-driven evidence gathering Reform UK 'think tank' report The future of public services: digital jobcentres.(4)

Link references


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Demonstrate against benefits assessment homicide, Kentish Town Jobcentre, Weds 25 Jan 2017, Noon till 1pm

At Thursday's kuwg meeting, we decided to return to 
Kentish Town Jobcentre
174-178 Kentish Town Road
London NW5 2AG
Wednesday 25 January, Noon till 1pm.
We made this decision after reading the CNJ Top story and Editorial Comment below. As this could happen to any of us, we cannot sit and not let the scummy rules of the DWP and JCP allow this to happen without protest. Wearing black would seem appropriate. Hopefully Jobcentre Staff can join us!

The Coroner should delve into the Medical Assessor industry, and the DWP-Governmental "turning a blind eye" methods of allowing vulnerable people to "slip thru the net."

Claimants and Workers Unite! Pass the word!


Related link address

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Revd Paul Nicolson proclaimed the housing crisis, London Live reported it

"No room at the inn" is a very topical theme for this time of year. 'Public houses' at the heart of communities have been sold to property developers while those who cannot afford to live in supposedly 'affordable homes' are evicted and left on the streets rather than council waiting lists.

And Revd Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP), alongside Haringey Unite Community colleagues, proclaimed 'The Twelve Shames of Parliament' yesterday as 'key decision-makers' responsible prepared to spend a festive season with family.(1)

For more details, go to the TAP blog post Sound the alarm bell for the housing crisis,(2) and the London Live photo story Ringing the alarm bell for the housing crisis.(3)

(London Live is part of the broadcasting and news corporation that owns: the i newspaper that has developed out of The Independent:(4) London Evening Standard:(5) and London Live broadcasting channel.(6) Fortunately for us, it is not owned by Rupert Murdoch who wants full ownership of Sky Broadcasting.(7))

And Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group wish all a more enlightened festive season and New Year 2017.

Reference link Web addresses