Category Archives: Welfare Reform

What does a yes or no vote mean for disabled people in Scotland?

A recent survey found that almost three-quarters of people living with a disability in Scotland feel that their voice has not been heard in the referendum debate so far.

DSCN6709Fears about the ongoing reform of the welfare system, their ability to live independently, and the social care support on offer were the most pressing concerns given by those questioned in the survey.

Therefore, Disability Agenda Scotland (DAS) – a consortium of Scotland’s leading disability charities that cover everything from sensory loss to physical disability, learning disability and mental health organised a hustings to consider the question: What does a yes or no vote mean for disabled people in Scotland?

Anne appeared on the panel on behalf of Better Together. In delivering the opening statement, she spoke of the need to achieve social justice and civil rights for disabled people across the UK.

DSCN6706She highlighted that the Tory/Lib Dem welfare reforms have disproportionately affected disabled people but she said that a change of policy would improve the lives of people living with a disability rather than a change of the constitution. She also pointed out that welfare is currently distributed based on need rather than a postcode lottery and, therefore, being part of the UK has benefited Scotland as it has allowed resources to be pooled and shared leading to higher public spending in Scotland.

Anne also spoke of the achievements in civil rights for disabled people that have taken place over the last thirty years by people like Alf Morris and Bert Massie who fought for the rights of disabled people across the UK. And, while people with disabilities have difficulties getting their voice heard, she highlighted that it doesn’t matter whether they are trying to lobby Westminster or Holyrood. To make a real difference, there have to be changes to policies and politics to engage with disabled people rather than independence for Scotland.

DSCN6727She finished by saying that a yes vote is a gamble and often when gambling it’s those who have the least that lose out which means that disabled people will lose out. She believes that more will be achieved by standing shoulder to shoulder with disabled people across the UK and that’s why she is voting no.

Backlog of 700,000 for ESA Claims

While giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee yesterday, the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP admitted over 700,000 disabled people are still waiting for their claims for Employment Support Allowance to be processed (ESA) causing real hardship.

You can watch the full evidence session here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15504

You can also read the BBC news coverage at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27796739 or Jackie Long’s Blog on the Channel 4 website here: http://blogs.channel4.com/jackie-long-on-social-affairs/huge-backlog-disabled-people-awaiting-benefit-checks/1211

Aberdeen South MP Blasts Government’s Welfare Reforms

In a day of debates highlighting the effects the Government’s changes to the welfare system are having, Aberdeen South MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg delivered a statement on the Committee’s recently published Fourth Report from the Work and Pensions Committee on support for housing costs, highlighted the need for a second independent review into the use of sanctions by Jobcentre Plus and she spoke about the specialist employment support which is being wrongly targeted at individuals closer to the employment market.

During the statement on the Select Committee’s recent report, Dame Anne called reforms such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the Household Benefit Cap a “blunt instrument”. Dame Anne mentioned that although the reforms were originally intended to make better use of housing stock and reduce welfare expenditure, they are instead causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response.

Amongst a number of issues raised by Dame Anne, she called on the Government to exempt disabled people living in adapted homes or who have a legitimate reason for requiring a spare room and to disregard disability benefits when considering eligibility for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).

Following on from the statement Dame Anne took part in a Backbench Business Committee Debate on the sanctions regime being used by Jobcentre Plus, Dame Anne called on the Government to launch a second independent review on the workings of sanctions to assess whether the increased use of sanctions is leading to more people finding work or whether they are purely punitive.

Dame Anne said

“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”

Dame Anne also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Dame Anne highlighted a constituent who hadn’t worked for ten years but was able to find a job with specialised employment support. Dame Anne raised concerns that this is specialised help is lacking in the new areas the Government has introduced and called for a well funded, specialised support system to enable people who have the highest barriers to work to find employment.

After the debates Dame Anne said

“These debates are vital to holding the government to account for their welfare changes. The government has launched wholescale changes to a vast number of benefits in a very short timescale. My recent Select Committee report, approved by Conservative and LibDem members on my committee, attacks the government’s ‘bedroom tax’ as hurting the most vulnerable most. Backbench Government MPs often say ‘Disabled people are exempt’ but it simply isn’t true.”

“There are a lot of myths surrounding the Government’s welfare changes and speaking in these debates is an important way to set the record straight, and raise the many problems which are being caused by the Government’s welfare reforms. I hope the government heeds my calls and helps alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Labour pledges to scrap Bedroom Tax which hits 1,911 in Aberdeen South

On the one year anniversary of the Bedroom Tax, Dame Anne Begg MP pledged a Labour government will scrap the Bedroom Tax which has hit 1,911 people in Aberdeen South.

Since David Cameron’s government introduced the Bedroom Tax low-income households have been forced to find, on average an extra £720 a year. According to the National Housing Federation two thirds of households hit by the Bedroom Tax cannot find the money to pay their rents and one in seven are at risk of eviction.Image

A recent report into housing costs by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, of which Dame Anne is Chair, found that the bedroom tax was one of the measures within the government’s welfare reforms that are causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response.

Dame Anne said,

‘Britain can’t afford another year of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s Bedroom Tax. 1,911 people in Aberdeen South have been hit by this cruel and costly tax on bedrooms. It’s time for the government to ditch the Bedroom Tax. If they don’t, then a Labour government will.”

Rachel Reeves said, “Over the past year half a million people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, forcing thousands into debt and thousands more to rely on food banks. It’s a cruel, unfair and costly tax which targets the vulnerable, with two thirds of those affected disabled. David Cameron promised the Bedroom Tax would save money, but figures in the Budget show the housing benefit bill is rising, not falling, with a huge £1billion increase over the next five years.”

Vulnerable people suffering as result of housing welfare reforms

Reforms to the support provided for housing costs – including the Bedroom Tax and the household Benefit Cap – are causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response, say the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published today.

The Bedroom Tax is having a particular impact on people with disabilities who have adapted homes or need a room to hold medical equipment or to accommodate a carer. The Committee recommends that anybody living in a home that has been significantly adapted for them should be exempt from the Bedroom Tax.  The Report further urges the Government to exempt all households that contain a person in receipt of higher level disability benefits (DLA or PIP) from the Bedroom Tax.

Commenting Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:

“The Government has reformed the housing cost support system with the aim of reducing benefit expenditure and incentivising people to enter work.  But vulnerable groups, who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are not able to respond by moving house or finding a job, are suffering as a result.

“The Government’s reforms are causing severe financial hardship and distress to vulnerable groups, including disabled people. Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), which local authorities can award to people facing hardship in paying their rent, are not a solution for many claimants. They are temporary, not permanent, and whether or not a claimant is awarded DHP is heavily dependent on where they live because different local authorities apply different eligibility rules.

“Using housing stock more efficiently and reducing overcrowding are understandable goals.  But 60-70% of households in England affected by the Bedroom Tax contain somebody with a disability and many of these people will not be able to move home easily due to their disability. So they have to remain in their homes with no option but to have their Housing Benefit reduced.”

The report can be read in full here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/support-for-housing-costs/ 

Disability benefit delays unacceptable

A report published today by the Work and Pensions Select Committee says that the length of time disabled people are having to wait to find out if they are eligible for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is unacceptable.

The report highlighted that some claims are taking six months or more to process and calls for urgent action to improve the current unacceptable service provided to PIP claimants.

Committee Chair, Dame Anne Begg MP said:

“Many disabled or sick people face waits of 6 months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty.  It is completely unacceptable.

“It is vital that all disabled people, but especially the terminally ill, experience as little delay and stress as possible in making a claim. Basic failures – from appointments being cancelled without notice to unsatisfactory responses to queries about claims – are happening too often. Claimants, and their MPs, have often been unable to get any information about when a decision will finally be made.

“The Minister acknowledged that the service claimants were receiving from Atos and Capita – and in some cases from DWP itself – was not acceptable.  Whilst this recognition is welcome, urgent action is also required.  DWP should not only consider invoking penalty clauses in contracts, but must look at its own systems to ensure that the current dire situation is resolved.

“By the end of last year decisions had been made in fewer than 20% of new claims submitted since April 2013. It is essential that the backlog is cleared before the limited natural reassessment of existing DLA claims is extended any further.”

The Report also assesses DWP performance in a number of other policy areas.  It found that the DWP needs to exercise care in the language used in accompanying press releases and ministerial comments in the media, to ensure it avoids the risk of feeding into negative public views about benefit recipients.

Dame Anne commented:

 ”Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.

“The UK Statistics Authority reprimanded DWP a number of times in 2013 for the way it was handling benefit statistics.

“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”

The report can be read in full on the Committee’s page at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news/dwp-monitoring-report/

 Further media coverage on the report can be read at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26615853

 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/18/mps-criticise-dwp-spin-statistics-benefit-claimants

MP Calls on Government to Launch Impact Assessment on Welfare Reform

During a Backbench debate on Welfare Reform, Dame Anne Begg MP called on the government to launch a cumulative impact assessment on their reforms to the welfare system which are unfairly targeting people with disabilities. The Back Bench Committee allocated time for this debate after a WOW petition was signed by over 100,000 people.

As Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne has continually called for the government to carry out a full impact assessment of welfare reform to show the effect they are having on people with disabilities.

Dame Anne said

“Although the Government states it isn’t picking on disabled people or people with health problems, their policies are impacting that group the hardest
“When you look at the changes they’ve made to the welfare system – Work Capability Assessments, Employment Support Allowance and the new Personal Independence Payments, you can see who they are aimed at.

“The government has reformed almost every benefit in the welfare system. The migration of disabled people to Employment Support Allowance from Incapacity benefit[…] the ATOS Work Capability Assessment[…] the introduction of new Personal Independence Payments[…] reforms to Housing Benefit and Housing Allowance[…] are hitting the disabled and those with health problems the hardest.”

After the debate Dame Anne said

“I have been calling for years for a full impact assessment of welfare reform. The government has continuously refused. Either the government don’t want to know what the impact of welfare reforms have been or they don’t want us to know. Surely good policy making involves reviewing the effectiveness and impact of decisions you have made?”

Housing Costs in a Reformed Welfare System

The below article written by Dame Anne Begg MP appeared in this month’s edition of  24 Housing.

Because housing costs form a large part of any household’s budget they also figure large in the benefits system.  It is not surprising, therefore, that a government who wishes to make huge cuts to the cost of welfare has turned its attention to Housing Benefit to realise some of these savings.  Over the past 4 years there have been many changes to the amount paid to tenants to help with their housing costs, in both the social and private rented sectors.  Which is also why the current inquiry of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee entitled “Housing Costs in a Reformed Welfare System” is important.

The UK social security system is often criticised for being overly complex and contains various disincentives to work.  That is why both the last government and this have attempted reforms of the system aiming to “always make work pay”. The last Labour government’s solution was the introduction of Tax Credits while the Coalition government is staking its reputation on a wholesale reform of working age benefits by consolidating most of them into the Universal Credit.

However, once you factor in housing costs the tapers which are meant to smooth the transition from benefit to work don’t always work effectively, especially in areas with high housing costs.  That’s because in this country we calculate the level of housing benefit based on the actual cost of housing in different parts of the country, not a flat rate depending on the size of your household.

What identical families living in different parts of the UK can receive towards their Housing costs can vary by as much as £1000 per month depending on whether they are in a private rent, receiving Local Housing Allowance in Central London or rent a Council house in deprived area in the north of England. Therefore the work incentives, or lack of them, can vary hugely.

The government’s reforms have been a rather blunt instrument and are only beginning to make themselves felt.  The changes to LHA introduced in 2011 only applied to new private sector tenants  or once existing tenants tenancy agreement came up for review, so the impact wasn’t immediate.  As more tenants face a shortfall between what they receive in benefit and their rent, the larger their arrears grow.  This means fewer private landlords are willing to take tenants who are benefit claimants which, in turn puts pressure on the social rented sector where there is already a shortage of properties.

The shortfall between HB received and level of rent is being replicated in the social sector with the introduction of what has become known as the “bedroom tax”.  If the policy had worked perfectly, the government’s own impact assessment shows that there would have been no savings.  Those in homes deemed too large would simply move to smaller properties freeing up the larger houses for those overcrowded, who would then qualify for more HB.  But we don’t live in a perfect world.  Councils and Housing Associations have not been building 1 bed properties for years so the smaller houses don’t exist in sufficient numbers. At the moment few are moving house, preferring to subsidise their housing from their other benefits.  However, the crunch can’t be far off as this is not sustainable for most households in the long term.

There has been an enormous outcry against the “bedroom tax”, even amongst those who believe that the government is right to be cutting the benefit bill.  I think this is because it is seen as being unfair.  It is not floor size, or bed spaces which are the determining factors, but bedrooms regardless of how small they might be.  Many of the government’s own backbenchers believe that disabled people living in houses specifically adapted for them are exempt.  They aren’t. They have to apply for the temporary Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to make up the shortfall. A married couple who can’t share a room because one or both of them has a disability are not exempt either.  Nor are households where it is a family member who is the full time carer.

For these households, moving is not an option, nor is increasing their income by working. So the government will have to keep paying out DHP so it makes sense that such households should be exempt.

There are a number of cases where it might even be costing the government more.  Apart from in London, many of the people who have been caught by the Benefits Cap are in temporary accommodation, which by its very nature is more expensive.  Of course some of them are in temporary accommodation because they have been evicted from their cheaper accommodation because of rent arrears caused by the government’s reforms!  A one bed private rent is likely to cost more than a 2 bed Council house but a tenant will qualify for full benefit for the more expensive tenancy, but not for the cheaper one.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned how things might change with the introduction of Universal Credit.  Lots, then, for my committee to get their teeth into.

Dame Anne Begg MP

Chair of Work and Pensions Select Committee

16th January 2014

Dame Anne Questions Iain Duncan Smith

As Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne led the questioning Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith yesterday on the problems facing Universal Credit and the delay in vital information being passed to the Committee.

With the Department’s controversial welfare reforms, of which Universal Credit is the flagship, being implemented and rolled out, the role of the Select Committee is to scrutinise the Department and offer recommendations as to how proposals can be improved or amended.

During the heated questioning session, Mr Duncan Smith was accused of not being open with a Commons Select Committee and of treating it with arrogance and disrespect.

Dame Anne also raised her concerns over failings in the policies and the negative implications of botched welfare reform.

Coverage of the evidence session can be found on the following sites;

Read the full transcript on the Parliament UK website- http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/5774
Watch on Parliament TV- http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14819
Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/feb/03/iain-duncan-smith-universal-credit
BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26020025
Telegraph – http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100257938/whitehall-is-shuddering-over-universal-credit-problems/