Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Briefing – Welfare Reform Bill 2011, 10 October 2011 - By WinVisible

Briefing – Welfare Reform Bill 2011, 10 October 2011

by Legal Action for Women, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence and
WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)
Tel: 020 7482 2496   Replies to:

Dear Members of the Lords,

This Bill is being rushed through, cutting basic survival benefits, reducing entitlement without proper scrutiny and leaving out crucial details, such as benefit rates. Yet it will cost £2 billion to change systems.  The implications are frightening.  We are deeply concerned about how little money people will have to live on, and the sweeping sanctions being introduced.  They will lead to increased destitution, homelessness, children in care, illness and early death.  This must be stopped.

Universal Credit continues the phasing out of Income Support (clause 34)

·      IS recognises that mothers and other carers are not unemployed, but are doing unwaged caring work which is basic to society and the economy.  Mothers reliant on benefits, single or in couples, are demeaned as “workless” and will be forced to become jobseekers as soon as their child becomes five (clause 57).  Before that, they are required to be involved in work-related activity.  Ever-younger children are deprived of their parents’ loving attention as both parents are subjected to jobseeking conditions regardless of the children’s needs.
·      Most single mothers already do waged work.  Getting a waged job is not a route out of poverty --58% of children in poverty live with someone in waged work (CPAG).
·      The whole family will suffer when benefit is stopped for trivial “breaches” of the jobseeking agreement. Already, vulnerable people have been cruelly sanctioned when they simply couldn’t read the jobseeking agreement.  Benefit can be denied for three years if someone refuses three job offers. 
·      Due to women’s raised retirement age, more women near the end of working age will be subjected to harsh jobseeking conditions.  These take no account of employers’ discrimination, including against people of colour and people with disabilities.  Why are jobseekers being victimised for the discrimination they suffer?

Clause 7: The move to pay benefit monthly in arrears must be scrapped. It will leave people, who now receive benefit weekly, without money for longer periods.  Already single mothers and single people report that the benefit runs out before the end of the week. We support the amendments to pay twice a month if chosen, and would prefer weekly. There should be no change until a review of the impact of monthly payments has been done.

Clause 8: We support the Zacchaeus 2000 amendments that the amount must meetindependently-researched minimum income standards, and the minimum for women of childbearing age and for pregnancy.  There must be an irreducible minimum untouched by overpayment recovery, etc.

Clause 10:  Additions for responsibility for children.
·      No amounts are set in the Bill. There must be no reduction on the amounts currently set for the Child Tax Credits and Income Support premiums. 
·      Universal Credit will be paid in a lump to one parent who claimed. Now mothers can directly receive Child Tax Credit regardless of which parent claimed, as it is widely recognised that mothers meet children’s needs first.  Fathers won’t necessarily pass this money to the mother. Provision must be made to pay Universal Credit allowance to mothers and/or fathers on pension credit which is out of the scope of this Bill.
·      Parents are already struggling as the Working Tax Childcare Credit was cut to 70%.   New money for parents doing less than 16 hours waged work a week does not make up for this cut.  We support amendments to increase the childcare subsidy and cover additional costs for a disabled child or higher costs by area.

·      Clause 11: Housing element of Universal Credit: We support Lord Kennedy’s move to delete this, keeping Housing Benefit.  We support amendments to help people keep the roof over their head, protect vulnerable tenants against having to move, and to keep payments to landlords (preventing evictions due to arrears).  Already, the Local Housing Allowance limits rent subsidy for private tenants, who have to use other meagre benefit money intended for food and bills, to pay rent.

Clause 12: Other needs.  We support amendments to include an amount for school meals and health costs. Alternatively all recipients of Universal Credit should be entitled to free school meals and exempted from NHS costs in line with what happens now.
Disability: Having one amount for disability, abolishes the extra Severe Disability Premium (SDP) of Income Support for people living alone.  What are people supposed to do about their high heating bills and other disability expenses which SDP recognised?  Entitlement to disability addition should not be tied to Personal Independence Payment, which will be restricted to thousands fewer people compared to Disability Living Allowance. 

Clauses 19 & 20  The exemptions from work-related requirements do not go far enough.    
Carers with regular and substantial caring responsibilities, and mothers of babies under one, are exempt, reflecting our previous lobbying. In 2009, breastfeeding mothers objected strongly to compulsory “work-focused sessions”.  Full-time disability carers were subject to work-focused interviews. Mothers of young children over one should not be compelled to attend work-focused interviews.   We want the choice to stay at home or to take waged work where manageable.  There is a large body of evidence that mothers with small children who wish to care for them but are forced back to work, have a greatly increased risk of depression, and that children aged under three especially are at increased risk of emotional and behavioural problems as a result of separation from a main carer, whose quality of care is not easily substituted. (Ref: Oliver James, Sue Gerhardt, and other child psychologists, biologists and health professionals)
Those in the equivalent of the Support Group of Employment and Support Allowance will be exempt, but this applies to a tiny proportion of claimants.  Most sick and disabled people are forced into work-related activity or jobseeking after the notorious Atos examinations.  Following concerns we raised, the British Medical Association is asking Atos if their employees act in their patients’ best interests – doctors conducting benefit examinations are bound by this duty.

Delete Clause 51 limiting contributions-based ESA to one year.  Cancer patients and others need time to recover.  Many are not eligible for alternative means-tested benefit.

Clause 52 deprives younger disabled people who were unable to build up NI contributions, of the higher contributions-based ESA, and reneges on the 2009 concession.

Clauses 60-62 take away contributions-based benefits, including maternity allowance from immigrant people who have paid tax, and subjects them to a test of “entitlement to work”.  This racism is abhorrent.

Clause 63 limits entitlement to industrial injuries benefit, ignoring the fact that some diseases take many years to develop.

Delete clause 68.  We oppose the housing benefit cap.  This will cause enormous impoverishment and disruption to families including those with a waged worker(s), and “ethnic cleansing” from wealthy areas.  Blame extortionate rents on landlords, not tenants. 
Delete clause 69.  We oppose abolition of the Social Fund. This is a lifeline to women and children fleeing domestic violence, ill and disabled people leaving hospital including those with mental illness, and prisoners, enabling them to set up a new home.  People increasingly rely on this fund in emergencies.  The government is shedding responsibility for vulnerable people, passing it to local councils with no legal duty to help and no ring-fenced funds. 
Clauses 75-81.  We oppose the abolition of Disability Living Allowance and replacement by Personal Independence Payment.  By abolishing the lowest rates, the government will deprive 78,000 disabled people of benefit, including people who rely on this to continue in waged work.  The longer qualifying period of six months will cause immense hardship.  People in residential care need mobility money to go out.  Tying PIP to working age will again deprive pensioners in need of mobility component.
Clause 93.  We oppose the benefit cap which will harm families with least resources.  ChildBenefit should not be included in the benefit cap – mothers earn it, children need it.  It must remain universal and is often the only money which mothers can call their own.  Carers’ Allowance, which is outside this Bill, should also not be included in the cap.
After clause 98.  Prisoners.  We support Lord Ramsbotham’s new clause to help prisoners (many are mothers) to have benefit quickly in place when they come out.
Clause 102 – recovery of benefit overpayments.  We support the amendment to protect claimants who didn’t know they were being overpaid.

New clause after 113.  We support Lord Ramsbotham’s amendment that DWP staff must be fully aware of claimants’ circumstances before imposing sanctions, fines and recovery of overpayments.

Clauses 131-134. Child maintenance.  Mothers will unfairly have to prove that they cannot make a private arrangement before the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will step in.  This is on top of being charged for maintenance collection.

There is no guarantee that the new untested IT system merging the DWP and Inland Revenue will function to meet the needs of growing numbers of people losing their jobs and current claimants – leaving vulnerable adults and children without money. 

Already, experienced staff who had a public service commitment, have been replaced by call centres and privatised “back-to-work” companies working to targets and for profit.

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