Tag Archives: social security

How do benefit sanctions affect mental health?

There are few things more obvious than if you are deprived of the means to feed yourself, it’s going to be stressful and more than likely affect your mental health and not in a good way. This Mental Health Awareness Week, the excellent Scottish Association for Mental Health is collecting evidence to present to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions. 

People on benefits can lose up to all of their personal allowances if they are deemed to have not done enough to find work or have missed an appointment or have been sacked for …

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Stephen Lloyd calls for action to help victims of domestic violence through Universal Credit

I’m really glad to see that Stephen Lloyd has written to Esther McVey to ask for action to reform Universal Credit to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to their own money.

The Scottish Party’s landmark Social Security Bill allows for the default splitting of payments between members in a household, but ideally we need to find a solution for the whole UK.

At the moment, the benefit is paid to one person, usually the man.

If domestic abuse is going on in a relationship, there is likely to be financial abuse too so it’s important to ensure that each …

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Lloyd: Government must delay “horror” changes to mortgage support

Support for Mortgage Interest is a benefit given to people claiming Universal Credit or certain other income-related benefits who have a mortgage or who have taken out loans to make repairs to their home. It pays for the cost of interest on up to £200,000 of a person’s mortgage in order to prevent claimants from defaulting on their mortgage.

From next month, SMI will be replaced by a loan of the same value, which is repaid (with interest) when the property is sold.

It’s pretty cheap, as benefits go, costing the Government around £300 million a year. It is certainly about 3.5 times cheaper than letting someone’s home be repossessed and then having to pay housing benefit to put that household in the rented sector.

Apart from the whole principle being flawed, the implementation seems to have been botched as only around 10,000 of the eligible families have taken up the loan. Some people haven’t even been sent the information about it so that they can make an informed choice about whether to take the loan.

Our Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd said the whole thing was a horror and called for implementation to be delayed.

Every month we seem to be hearing yet more examples of this Conservative government being both mean-spirited and unintelligent; this mortgage interest benefit change is a classic example. It will force some homeowners into even more debt, and will force others to sell their homes putting themselves at the mercy (and cost) of their local council’s housing department. Which, naturally, will cost the taxpayer more in housing benefit than keeping them in their own house by paying mortgage interest payments. An absolutely ridiculous decision.

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Vince calls on Government to delay changes to mortgage interest payment for people on benefits

In less than 3 weeks’ time, the Government stops paying mortgage interest to for those on certain benefits.

Some bright spark at the Department of Work and Pensions came up with a way to save the Government money – by getting a private company, Serco, to operate a loan scheme. Instead of having payments covered by the state, they will be covered by the homeowner taking out a private loan with Serco in return for a charge on the property. That means that they will have to pay back an unspecified sum of money if they eventually sell their house.

The Government …

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ESA appeals figures “absolutely appalling” – Stephen Lloyd

New stats from the Department for Work and Pensions show that not far off two thirds of decisions that people are fit for work are overturned on appeal.  Now, think about it. You have to go through a stressful assessment process. You get your decision. You then have to ask for a mandatory reconsideration which will almost always have the same outcome. You then have the stress of waiting for months for an appeal. Then you have the stress of actually going to the Tribunal and facing questions from a panel. By this time a year or more could have gone by.

In any other organisation, such figures would lead to sackings and questions and enquiries  and sorting stuff out. Not in the Department of Work and Pensions under Tory misrule.

Our Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd called the figures “absolutely appalling.”

These figures are absolutely appalling, but of little surprise to me. With the many constituents who come through my office and those of other MPs’ across the country, we see with our own eyes some shocking decisions by Work Capability tribunals.

It is time that we stop faceless corporations making money off the backs of disabled people, while providing poor quality service.

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It’s not just the ridiculous and ignorant mistakes made in PIP and ESA assessments that should worry us

You judge whether a society is civilised or not by how it treats its most vulnerable people.  The Work and Pensions Select Committee will publish a report this week which has recommendations for the reform of social security for sick and disabled people.

If one of your relatives suffered from a debilitating, life limiting physical or mental health condition, you would want them to have the best support possible. You wouldn’t want them to have to endure a social security system that is complex, demeaning and stressful.

As a prelude to their full report, the Work and Pensions Committee published a taster of the evidence they have received which outlines the awful things that people go through.

For me, it wasn’t the absurd and ridiculous incidents that caught the headlines (people being asked why they hadn’t killed themselves yet, or how they caught Down’s Syndrome) that upset me the most. It was the clear evidence that the way the system operates is harmful to people that made me angriest.

To be fair, none of this was news to me. I’ve been aware for some time that the system is broken. It particularly fails those with fluctuating conditions, Autism and poor mental health, but it’s stressful for everybody.

Filling in the massive form is particularly difficult. For some, it is even more so. I spoke at an RNIB Scotland fringe meeting at Scottish Conference about a year ago, The RNIB Scotland Chair, Sandra Wilson, talked about her experience of the dreaded form. She has no sight. They sent her a paper copy and expected her to fill it in. They knew she had no sight when they sent her the form.

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Does it matter what colour your passport is?

My reaction to the news the other day that blue passports were going to be coming back after Brexit was one of frustration and annoyance.

I am not young by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve never had an old style passport. My first one, issued in 1993, was the burgundy European Union one.

It’s not the colour change that upsets me so much but what it symbolises. Those words European Union signify openness and co-operation. That translates into meaningful rights for me as a citizen. It means that I can travel freely across the EU. It means that I am part of something that protects my rights – even when my own Governments, Scottish and UK, seek to undermine them.

I absolutely cherish those words. The change in passport colour symbolises a retreat from those values.

Tom Brake made the point the other day that there is a huge financial cost to each of us that he put at £721 per passport. That’s based on a £35 billion settlement to the EU divided by 48.5 million passport holders. He said:

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High Court rules that 2017 changes to PIP regulations are discriminatory

The High Court has found that part of the rules governing Personal Independence Payments are unlawfully discriminatory against people with mental health impairments.

The Public Law Project’s client, RF, won on all three grounds of her challenge (RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions). 

The judge quashed the 2017 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Regulations because they discriminate against those with disabilities in breach of Human Rights Act 1998 obligations. Because they were discriminatory, the judge also found that the Secretary of State did not have lawful power to make the Regulations (i.e. they were “ultra vires”), and that he should have consulted before making them, because they went against the very purpose of what PIP regime sought to achieve.

The judge heard that the Regulations were laid by negative resolution in February 2017, received relatively little parliamentary attention, and were rushed through the parliamentary process by the Secretary of State without prior reference to checks by relevant committees.  Contrary to the Secretary of State’s defence, the judge found that the decision to introduce the Regulations was ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’ and commented that the wish to save money could not justify such an unreasonable measure.

During the course of the trial, the Secretary of State accepted that the testing carried out for PIP had not looked at whether the basis for treating those with psychological distress differently was sound or not, and the testing actually done was limited. 

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Scottish Parliament calls for rollout of Universal Credit to be halted

Alex Cole-Hamilton was one of the MSPs calling for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted during a debate in the Scottish Parliament today. Only the Conservatives defended the continued rollout.

We know that people are having to wait up to 6 weeks for any money at all. MSPs had some real horror stories to report which you can see in the full record of the debate here.

Alex’s speech was very well crafted – and it was candid, too. He both acknowledged and distanced himself from the Liberal Democrat role in the coalition government’s welfare reform. However, he was able to show that without us there, the Tories have done a great deal worse. Here’s his speech in full.

I often speak with hyperbole in this place about the various responsibilities that we as decision makers discharge both in this Parliament and at Westminster, but the safety net that we provide for those who, for whatever reason, cannot provide for themselves should be the measure of any civilised society. My party has a proud history in the genesis and introduction of the welfare state in the early days of the 20th century, with the first state pension introduced under Lloyd George. In the 1940s, that great Liberal William Beveridge was the catalyst for the advent of social security when he identified the original “giant evils”, as he described them, of ignorance, idleness, squalor, want and disease. It is a failure of progress that, if we strip out the antiquated language, many of those evils still hold sway in our society today.

We should remember that, until this decade, the systems of welfare in this country had not undergone significant reform since their introduction, despite generations of incremental modification. For decades, welfare reform was sought by poverty campaigners, third sector organisations and academics so that we could dispense with unneeded red tape and inject much-needed social mobility into the system.

It fell to my party, in its period of coalition government, to co-preside over that much-needed redesign. I would, however, that we had had different bedfellows in that task. There are elements of the system that underpins the process that I take no pride in at all, and there are aspects of the new system that I still find shameful. Nevertheless, I am glad that we were there, for I dread to think of the welfare system that our Conservative partners would have designed unencumbered. We all saw the measure of the ideological compass behind Conservative social policy in the ill-fated manifesto that Theresa May published in the spring.

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Liberal Democrats would end the benefits freeze – but Labour aren’t sure

As prices go up in a Brexit-induced inflationary spiral, spare a thought for the poorest in our society. People who are having to rely on state benefits don’t get any cushioning thanks to George Osborne’s benefit freeze. As prices go up, benefits, already at a meagre level, stay the same making it even harder for people to survive.

So, you’d think that Jeremy Corbyn’s lefty Labour Party would be all about ending the freeze. Well, that’s what they briefed reporters on Friday morning ahead of a Corbyn visit to Cambridge. Remember that until 2015, Cambridge was represented by a Liberal Democrat who voted against many of the most contentious elements of the Coalitions social security reforms.

Anyway, Jezza rolls up and, weirdly, gives a much more timid message than his advisers had briefed. From Politics Home:

Party officials briefed journalists that Mr Corbyn would make the promise during a visit to Coatbridge in Lanarkshire yesterday.

A trail of his speech quoted the Labour leader saying: “We will lift the freeze on social security, using part of the billions we set aside for reform in our costed manifesto, by recycling social security savings made by introducing a real Living Wage of £10 an hour, and by building the affordable homes we need.”

But when he came to make the address, Mr Corbyn only said: “We are confident that we will be able to end the benefits freeze.”

A Labour source told The Times: “In his campaign speeches… not everything is said, but the intention was to say that. It’s in line with our policy.”

A party spokesman said: “We are confident that we will be able to end the benefits freeze.”

It’s the sort of caution that strikes resignation and frustration into the heart of anyone that actually wants to sort stuff out.

Just as a matter of interest, what is the Liberal Democrats’ policy on this? Pretty unequivocal, from the 2017 manifesto

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If they say you’re a Red Tory or a Yellow Tory, ask about Corbyn’s welfare cuts

Jeremy Corbyn’s team had promised to reverse child tax credit cuts, but in their 2017 manifesto, they did nothing of the sort as the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows:

Corbyn’s manifesto planned to increase taxes by £46bn per year and to borrow an extra £350bn. With so much extra funding, there was enough to honour their promises on welfare, so voters could be forgiven for assuming that they would.
In his first leadership election, Corbyn said: “Families are suffering enough. We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake”.  This issue of welfare cuts is why he defeated his Labour rivals for the leadership, because they had previously abstained on a number of votes.
In autumn 2015, John McDonnell, his Shadow Chancellor, didn’t just commit not to implement these cuts, he promised to reverse those that had already happened: “We are calling on Osborne to reverse his decision to cut tax credits. If he doesn’t reverse these cuts, we’re making it clear that we will”.
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May doesn’t care about disabled people losing their benefits – Farron

Theresa May was confronted over disability benefit cuts yesterday, during a rare encounter with ordinary people.  Cathy Mohan, who lives in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, berated the Prime Minister over cuts to service and social security for people with learning disabilities.

Watch the encounter here.

Tim Farron said:

Theresa May has shown she just doesn’t care about people like Cathy who are seeing their benefits slashed and prices rise.

Instead of addressing concerns over learning disabilities – she tried to change the subject to mental health.

Theresa May isn’t listening and is taking people for granted.

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The most disgraceful Government form ever #rapeclause

There are many occasions at the moment when the UK Government makes me ashamed to be British. Two examples this week show what Tim Farron described on Question Time the other night as “Cruel Britannia.”

The first is the removal of Personal Independence Payments from people suffering serious psychological distress. Matt described powerfully here what that would mean for him.

When outdoors I can become so distressed by events and this can trigger an episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms. Symptoms include flash backs to an event that has caused much psychological harm and distress, visual hallucinations of the event that makes me feel that I am in another time and place, reliving the event as though it is really happening at that moment, becoming completely unaware of immediate surroundings. Coming out of one of these episodes is extremely distressing, confusing and disorientating and leaves me full of fear. My entire thought process is filled only with getting home and getting safe. I am no longer capable of following the route because my brain and thought process will not quieten down enough to think. I can only liken it to a petrified dog that will run off at full speed ahead, unaware of dangers / hazards / roads, petrified of people. All you can think of is getting home to the safety of your bed and cowering. The situation has caused me to put myself and others in danger whilst in this panicked state of mind. There are many things that can act as a trigger for me, It might be the way someone looks reminds me of person from my past, It can be a certain smell that acts as a trigger, it might be something I hear. I spend most of my life avoiding triggers. These are obviously easier to control within the safety of my own home, but impossible when I am outdoors.

The second example is the removal of benefits to cover third or subsequent children. In itself this is utterly wrong in principle. Benefit should be payable according to need. Children are suffering now because their families are now significantly worse off. The idea that large families should be penalised is so wrong. Are we really saying that if someone finds themselves as a single parent and they have four children, that the state should only provide help with two of them? What are the others supposed to do? It brings back the sort of attitude from Victorian times when the state would provide a parent with help with child support for a couple of weeks before taking the children off the parent and putting them in the workhouse. The idea that the poor are in some way culpable and should be punished is not something any liberal should accept. 

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Scottish Liberal Democrats demand answers from Ruth Davidson over mental health cuts to PIP

The Conservatives have not covered themselves in glory on social security issues recently. The removal of Housing Benefit from young people, the totally immoral restriction of benefits to two children and the deeply objectionable 8 page form that women have to complete if they want to claim for a third child conceived by rape, the cuts to disability benefits and cutting back eligibility to Personal Independence Payments for those suffering psychological distress have all shown a cruel lack of understanding of real life.

Let’s not forget the five year benefit freeze imposed by George Osborne in 2015. With Brexit bound to increase prices, that is simply unsustainable.

The cuts are significant, but even more reprehensible is the inhumane stripping of dignity from those who need our help. A civilised society supports those in need. If that makes me a bleeding heart Liberal, as Tim Farron declared he was on Question Time the other night, then I’m proud to be so.

Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives may pretend that they are nicer than their Westminster counterparts, making the right noises on mental health recently, but we can’t forget that they are the same party. Every awful thing that Theresa May’s Brexit government does reflects on them.

As health and social security spokespeople for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton and I have written to Ruth Davidson asking her to state her position on the cuts to PIP. Our letter says:

Dear Ruth,

We were pleased to see your party last week join the Liberal Democrats and campaigners in declaring that the SNP Government’s new mental health strategy lacked ambition. It was the right thing to do because the new strategy will not deliver the transformation we desperately need to see.

However, we were deeply concerned to see that, in the very same week, your colleagues at Westminster were voting to restrict personal independence payments to people with mental health and anxiety conditions, affecting tens of thousands of people both in and out of work.

This shows little understanding of the complex needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, for example those trapped in their homes because they are too anxious to leave without someone. These people can need help to leave their home every bit as much as someone suffering from a physical condition.

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Damning PIP report shows culture of fear and mistrust – Olney

The virtual ink was barely dry on Geoff Crocker’s harrowing piece about his son’s PIP interview when a comment from Sarah Olney on the damning report by the Independent Reviewer of the PIP implementation, Paul Gary, popped into my inbox.

The report is highly critical and outlines that the fundamentals are just not working.

A key conclusion of the Review is that public trust in the fairness and consistency of PIP decisions is not currently being achieved, with high levels of disputed award decisions, many of them overturned at appeal

My findings point to the need to build very considerably on current action to improve the way PIP is administered, continuing the direction of travel proposed in the first Review. They include recommendations to improve the way the right type of evidence is obtained, used and tested in assessments; to strengthen transparency; and to broaden audit and quality assurance in assessment and decision-making.

In other words, there’s not a lot that’s going right.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve gone through the stress that Geoff describes just going for the interview. Then you find that you have been denied PIP. Then you have to endure the further stress of an appeal just to get the help that you desperately need to get on with your life, to work. PIP is not a luxury. It’s there to help people with long term conditions with the extra costs that these pile on.

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The UK’s ritual humiliation of disabled people – Part 2 The PIP interview

In an earlier post, I wrote about the process of withdrawal of Disability Living Allowance and the requirement for disabled people to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), as I experienced it in caring for my adult son Paul who has a condition known as Williams Syndrome. Several respondents shared similar stories, and urged our party to adopt a much stronger care policy for disabled people, so far to no avail. (I was by the way mistaken in my claim that all PIP application notices had been sent out over Christmas and New Year – it appears that a rolling programme is in place and this was just when Paul happened to receive his notice).

As other respondents also warned, the PIP application form and subsequent interview deepen the hostile challenging nature of the process. The application form is indeed 40 pages long. Brutally, DWP specifically refuses to allow a PIP applicant to state a well-known, well-documented medical condition with known symptoms as a statement of need. So for example you’re not allowed to state conditions such as Downs Syndrome or in Paul’s case Williams Syndrome and then allow this to refer to all its known symptoms and detailed conditions. Instead DWP insists that the applicant sets out in detail all the distressing elements of that condition, from intellectual lack of capacity, physical impairment, to hygiene and continence issues. I completed the form, ending up choked with distress at having to specify this detail. 

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Liberal Democrats are the only party standing up against PIP cuts

If you haven’t read Matt’s article about how the changes to Personal Independence Payments will affect him, then please do so.

Last night, the amazing Liberal Democrat peers did their best to try and stop the Government’s plans in their tracks. They filed a fatal motion which, like the one that saw off the fatal changes to tax credits, would have forced the Government to think again.

What they needed was the support of the Labour Party. However, as we know from Brexit, Labour don’t seem to be up for providing any opposition that actually means anything. Did they vote for our motion? No. They did, however, put down their own motion which amounted to little more than “We don’t like this very much but we aren’t going to do anything about it.”

Be in no doubt that if Labour had supported our motion, these PIP cuts would not be happening.

Following the votes,  Baroness Celia Thomas, Lords Spokesperson for Disability, said:

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Changes to Disability Benefits and the Government’s blasé attitude to psychological distress.

Last month the Government announced that it was going to be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which would see those people with mental illnesses stuck without the vital support that they need. The Government has introduced these restrictions after losing two cases at tribunals.

The Tribunal ruled that someone who is unable to undertake a journey without assistance from another person due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulty navigating. Rather than accepting the ruling of the courts, the Government decided to change the legislation and the descriptors to exclude people suffering from some mental health disabilities by inserting the following into the legislation and the descriptors, “for reasons other than psychological distress”.

The Government produced its own analysis of which claimants and conditions are likely to be affected by these changes, 

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Lib Dem Lords aim to kill new Tory restrictions on disability benefits

The Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion to kill Government attempts to severely restrict disability benefits.

The move follows an announcement by the Government that they will be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which could see diabetics and those with mental illnesses stuck without support. The Government has introduced these restrictions after losing two cases at tribunals.  From the Minister’s statement:

The first judgement held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who need support to manage therapy of this kind are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

The second held that someone who cannot make a journey without assistance due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating. By way of example, the first group might include some people with isolated social phobia or anxiety, whereas the second group might include some people who are blind. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who cannot navigate, due to a visual or cognitive impairment, are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

Responding to the announcement Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jenny Willott writes: Is Citizens’ Income the answer to the failures of our social security system?

I recently wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice about “Mending the Safety Net”, the policy paper on social security which will be discussed at conference in Brighton.  One of the issues raised in the comment on the piece was, understandably, why the group ended up not supporting a move to a Citizen’s Income.  Rather than a long comment on the original piece, I thought it would be helpful to explain the groups view in a separate post.

In a nutshell, the Citizen’s Income pays the same amount to every resident, regardless of whether they are in work or not.  There is no means testing and no conditions apply to those receiving the payment.  Every citizen receives the same amount, although in some schemes there are different amounts for children, working age adults and pensioners.  There are a number of different monikers and different ways of doing similar things, such as Negative Income Tax and Universal Basic Income, most of which we looked into, but for simplicity I’m just going to refer to ‘Citizen’s Income’ throughout.

At first glance it seems simple and easy to administer, and could help put an end to the divisive ‘them versus us’ narrative that has infected the debate on welfare.

That is why I and many others on the social security group were initially very attracted to the idea. We read a lot about it and invited a number of people who have advocated the policy to give evidence to the group. 

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Jenny Willott writes…Mending the Safety Net – our proposals for reforming working age social security

Since last October, I have been chairing the Social Security Working Group, which has been taking a fresh look at party policy in this area.  We had a wide ranging remit covering all aspects of working age social security, from supporting people with disabilities to tackling child poverty.  We have now published our policy recommendations: it has been a big challenge, but thanks to a working group of passionate, talented people, ranging from experienced policy makers to new enthusiastic party members, I think we’ve produced a paper of which Lib Dems can be proud. You can find Mending the Safety Net here.

I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the key things we are proposing.  We heard a lot of different ideas and proposals from party members, experts and NGOs, and have sought to propose policy that is liberal and distinctive, but which, crucially, could make a real and practical difference to people’s lives.

Reducing child poverty

From the outset the group agreed that reducing child poverty should be our priority. We know that a child growing up in poverty will already be attaining less than their better off peers by the time they start school, they will be bullied more, have poorer health and are less likely to leave school with five A* – C GCSE passes. We felt strongly that it should be a real priority to tackle the barriers created for children that grow up in poverty.

Unlike when Labour first came to power, the majority of children growing up in poverty now do so in households where at least one person works. That’s why one of our key recommendations is to introduce a second earner’s allowance to Universal Credit. This could transform the lives of many children by dramatically increasing the amount of money going to some of the lowest paid families in our country. We also want to see an increase of £5 a week to the child element of Universal Credit for the first child in a family to help new families afford the high costs associated with a first child.

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Last chance to shape Lib Dem policy on liberty and security and social security

When should the state be able to collect data about you? Should you be able to be tried in a secret court and not informed of the evidence against you? How can we make sure that our social security system is sustainable and needs-based?

The party is currently trying to answer these questions with two consultations, one on liberty and security and another on social security. They have been seeking input for some time from party members, charities and NGOs and members of the public.

Today is the last day that you can give your opinion before the two working groups draw up their final proposals which will be debated at Conference in Brighton in September.

Each will take you 10 minutes. It is worth it to have a say on these important issues.

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An end to benefit fraud – the Liberal way

…the plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not…

Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads To Freedom, 1918

There are two types of benefit fraud going on. There’s the sort that the Daily Mail and various populist TV shows enjoy making a song-and-dance about. Then there’s the more prevalent fraud, with targets to deny people the money they and their families need to live, to “sanction” them on flimsy pretexts, to require people with mental and physical disabilities to undergo lengthy and stressful appeals processes.

Providing a small unconditional income to everyone in society addresses both of these frauds – and incidentally means that much of the demeaning, embarassing, arbitrary, and extremely costly assessments can be scrapped.

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