Tag Archives: social security

Disabled people claiming vital benefits are being treated disgracefully

We hear regular assurances from our political leaders, that priority will be given to meet people’s mental health needs. The opposite is currently the case. Many people with mental health needs receive Disability Living Allowance. DLA is ending and being replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). DLA recipients, and/or their carers, were sent a letter from the Department for Work & Pensions dated 11 December 2016, informing them that DLA is ending, that they will not automatically be transferred to PIP, but must submit a claim by telephone by 8 January 2017. If the DLA recipient makes no contact, then DLA payments will simply end. The letter ends by suggesting that help can be obtained from unnamed organisations whose details can be found ‘online, at your local library, or in the telephone directory’! The letter was repeated in a follow up dated 25 December 2016! Some Christmas present from our renowned DWP.

I have care responsibility for my adult son, Paul, who has support needs resulting from a condition known as Williams Syndrome. Paul receives DLA, and care support from an organisation called ‘Options’ which I fund. I was away from home over Christmas until 30 December and so had to move quickly to telephone the call number to apply for PIP for him by the 8 January deadline. I called on 3 January, waited for 17 minutes, was then told that the system was down and I would receive a call back the next day. No call back came on 4 January, so I called again myself on 5 January. This time I had to wait 30 minutes to be answered. A DWP (although probably contracted out) officer then took me through an application process which required extensive data of Paul’s NI number, GP address and telephone, social worker and care organisation addresses and telephone numbers, nationality or immigration status, details of time spent abroad, and bank account details. There were bizarre questions about EU and Swiss connections which I didn’t even understand. During the process the officer frequently read out to me various warnings and threats of action which DWP would take in the event of false information being submitted, ranging from benefit withdrawal to prosecution.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 12 Comments

Susan Kramer says that Government must unfreeze benefits

Back in July, I told a panel on social security at the Social Liberal Forum conference that in the wake of Brexit, a benefits freeze for four years, which was never a good idea, was entirely inappropriate and we should be opposing it loudly.

Analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirms that Brexit is going to hit those on benefits and low incomes particularly hard:

Normally many of those on the lowest incomes would be at least partially protected from the impact of higher prices by the rules that govern the annual uprating of benefits and tax credits. By default, benefit and tax credit rates are (with some exceptions, most notably the state pension) increased each April in line with the annual CPI inflation rate of the previous September – higher prices lead to higher benefit rates (albeit with a lag). However, in the July 2015 Budget the Government announced that, as part of its attempt to cut annual social security spending by £12 billion, most working-age benefit and tax credit rates would be frozen in cash terms until March 2020. This policy represented a significant takeaway from a large number of working age households. But it also represented a shifting of risk from the Government to benefit recipients. Previously, higher inflation was a risk to the public finances, increasing cash spending on benefits. Now the risk is borne by low-income households: unless policy changes higher inflation will reduce their real incomes.

I am glad to see that our shadow Chancellor, Susan Kramer, has now said that the Government must reverse its unfair benefits freeze plans:

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A Liberal idea to empower claimants

 

At Conference we agreed a policy motion, “Mending the safety net”, on ways of stopping people from falling into poverty caused by problems with social security nets. Leaving aside the heated arguments for how this would best work, how about involving those we are talking about in having a needle and thread too ?

Whatever the ways we have of mending the safety net, those who need it must be able to understand the letters that they are sent from the officials concerned.

I am not blaming the officials, they don’t necessarily know how what is written is perceived, but what can be done is listen to the recipients.  I was a volunteer advisor with CAB for 40 years, and know how many people just do not understand what they are being told.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 16 Comments

What party members think about a universal basic income and benefits sanctions

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

The social security debate at Conference this afternoon will be dominated by two major arguments. George Potter recommended rejection of the motion as a whole because it chose not to endorse a universal basic income and because it supports the use, albeit much restricted, of sanctions. Supporters of the UBI may well support an amendment calling for a negative income tax from Calderdale while an amendment signed by members opposes the use of benefits sanctions in any circumstances. We asked our members what they thought of the idea of UBI and sanctions.

Are you in favour of a universal basic income?

Yes 60.32%

No  39.68%

Here are some of the comments made:

It would be a clear, distinct policy and place the Party firmly on the “Left” (which, as Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown proved) is the only place it can survive.

The nature of work is changing and society needs to catch up. The markets can no longer be a funnel for the rich to build up their wealth. Redistribution needs to be far more aggressive.

No. It is fundementally wrong as it discriminates against the most vulnerable in society. Common denominators always end up being the lowest.

Posted in Conference and LDV Members poll | Also tagged and | 27 Comments

Social security paper has practical suggestions for helping the vulnerable

I reckon that I’ve been to over 30 Lib Dem conferences in my years as a member, so missing the odd one usually isn’t a hardship. But I am absolutely gutted that I am missing this one in Brighton. I really wanted to be there to support the excellent Mending the Safety Net motion that stems from the policy working group I was a member of.

It was a first time for me to make the commitment and apply to join a working group but as someone who has spent my whole professional career working with people in hardship, for the last eight years at Citizens Advice, I felt I could add something to the party’s thinking. It was a great experience and I would recommend people to put themselves forward if they think they can add something to these things.

The group, under Jenny Willow’s great chairmanship, was far more involved than I imagined. We met almost weekly for months, took direct evidence from 22 experts in the field, read through 786 pages of written evidence, ran an amazing consultative session at York with 80 delegates and received over 500 online responses from members. The report is a large, detailed and costed proposal on how practically we could turn around the lives of the most vulnerable in society.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 8 Comments

Why the social security policy paper should be rejected

On Monday at Liberal Democrat conference, party members will have the chance to debate policy motion F31 which endorses a new Liberal Democrat welfare policy paper, Mending the safety net.

However, as one of the members of the working group which wrote the paper, I strongly urge all members at conference to vote against the motion.

My reasons for saying this are simple: although the policy paper is called ‘Mending the Safety Net’, what it proposes is nothing of the sort. In fact, it actively endorses the current welfare system which is failing so badly that over a million people in the UK don’t just live in poverty but are actively destitute.

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest social challenges facing our country – even if you set aside the human suffering it creates, poverty costs the UK £78 billion a year, blighting our national prosperity.

When set against that backdrop, the welfare policy motion is a failure.

In my opinion it lets down some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society by failing to offer real solutions to the problems they face, it spectacularly misses the opportunity to define a real and distinctive alternative approach to welfare for the Liberal Democrats, and, crucially, it cannot be made fit for purpose even if all the amendments to it on the agenda are passed.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 23 Comments

Reversing Conservative cuts remains the big social security challenge

The conference policy paper on “Mending the Safety Net” contains lots of good stuff on a wide range of welfare policy, even if I say so as a member of its working group. But, at Conference and beyond, I think it’s important not to get distracted from the big issue of the £13bn of cuts planned by the Conservatives. Reversing these – and indeed going further – is what will make the biggest difference to people’s lives, to UK inequality and even to the economy (and hopefully win a few votes in the process). Within this, here are three goals that the party should be fighting for.

Increasing working-age benefits in line with inflation – and ultimately earnings

George Osborne announced that most non-pensioner benefits would be frozen at their 2015 levels for 4 more years. Even before the Brexit vote, this was expected to be a massive drag on living standards. But inflation over the next few years is now expected to be higher than previously predicted – driven by rising import prices due to the weaker pound – and unemployment is predicted to rise too. This means the freeze will be even harsher than Osborne intended. And if the economy at any point needs a boost through fiscal policy, cutting the incomes of poorer households would be just about the worst policy you can think of, as The Economist recently noted.

So the party should be pressuring the new Chancellor to scrap the freeze and increase working-age benefits in line with inflation. But the policy paper goes further and argues that benefits should ultimately rise in line with average earnings – alongside a return to some form of housing cost link for Housing Benefit (soon to be part of UC). This would help ensure that when the economy and tax receipts are growing, everyone shares in that and inequality doesn’t widen. It may sound boring, but choices about benefit uprating in the long-term can compound to be more important than almost any other welfare or tax choice for poverty and inequality.

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 12 Comments
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