Adventures in PIP: the DWP is exhausting.

On September 21st 2015 I had a letter telling me my Personal Independence Payments had been stopped after my re-assessment. On 12th October, I put in a written request for mandatory reconsideration of my claim.

I called the DWP last week, a month after I’d sent the letter. They found it on their system, and the person I spoke to on the phone told me they’d basically forgotten about it. It had been scanned and entered, and then left.

Today I called again. The decision still hasn’t been made. This time I was told it could take up to nine weeks for a decision. Which is halfway through December. Just shy of three months after my PIP was stopped.

In this time, surprisingly, I have not magically become better. I have not adapted to life without PIP because, funnily enough, I kinda need it. My extra financial requirements have not disappeared. But now I don’t have the cash to meet them.

My PIP paid for my weekly gentle yoga classes that helped me move and got me out of the house. It paid for a bus, it paid for me to park the car. It paid for me to use the local Shopmobility services when I went out. As a result of me losing my PIP our ESA payments also went down. This means I now cannot afford the yoga class, or transport, or much of anything really for the moment. Losing my PIP – albeit only temporarily, I hope – has meant I’ve lost a lot of my independence. I cannot afford to get out the house. I cannot afford to go to places and meet people. This is how people become isolated – it takes sick and disabled people more energy than most to get out the house in the first place. If they’re constantly worrying about if they can afford to, that’s not going to help.

I’ll be alright – I know how to fight this and if it goes further and I have to appeal, well, I can do that. But it’s not fun, and it’s not easy, and I’m ill and I’m tired. How am I going to make myself “work ready” if I have to spend all my very limited energy fighting for the basic stuff I need to be able to live my life? Removing essential money from sick and disabled people doesn’t make them more likely to succeed, it won’t make them more motivated to go out and work. In fact, it is doing just the opposite. We’re all very tired of fighting.

Advertisements

Budget Day: The cold, hard numbers of rich and poor Britain.

My favourite little factoid about the House of Commons has to do with Budget Day, and it’s this:

“Members may not eat or drink in the chamber; the exception to this rule is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may have an alcoholic beverage while delivering the Budget statement” (Wikipedia)

Today, it may be the rest of us that need the alcohol.

In 2008, the British government approved a rescue package to British banks. The banks had lowered their credit standards, given out more money and brought in profit for their shareholders. Then the housing bubble went pop. The greed of bankers and shareholders who wanted to lend out more money to bring in more profit, meant that the returns weren’t coming back in. And the banks were running out of money.

The rescue package in 2008 consisted of the UK government giving £500 billion to UK banks, to get them out of their financial hole.

£500,000,000,000 is what it look like when you write it out. It’s a whole load of zeros. Let’s look at another number that has a lot of zeros.

£16,000,000,000. That’s sixteen billion. Which is the amount the banks paid out in bonuses the year they received the bailout.

How about another number.

£50,000,000,000. Fifty billion. That’s how much the government gave to the banks in 2009, for the second bailout.

Another number?

£93,000,000,000. Ninety-three billion. The amount handed to businesses in subsidies and tax breaks.

One more.

£12,000,000,000. Twelve billion. The amount Osborne is expected to cut from the welfare bill before 2017. The money that goes to the poorest people in society.

Because when you’ve given £516 billion to the banks to fix their mistake, and £93 billion to businesses to make sure they’re alright, someone has to foot the bill. And the people footing the bill are the people who never had any money in the first place.

More numbers? Alright then.

£20,000. Twenty thousand. The amount of money a family outside London is expected to live on. (Here’s a previous blog post about how that pans out)

3,500,000. Three and a half million. The number of children in the UK living in poverty.

1,084,604. One million, eighty four thousand, six hundred and four. The number of people who had to receive emergency food and support from the Trussell Trust food banks in 2014-15.

15,955. Fifteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety five. The number of benefits sanctions in the FIRST THREE MONTHS of 2014.

One final one? Gladly:

0. Zero. The number of British bankers who have faced any criminal charges for their reckless lending.


The Tory’s slash and burn budget cuts: next week is going to hurt.

We’re two months in to a Tory government, and the gloves are coming off. There’s a budget in less than a week and I can’t decide if the news stories that have appeared over the last couple of days are to gently ease us in to the horror, or if they’re cleverly designed to turn the country on those in poverty so when the budget comes they can say “Yeah, those workless, they’re the cause of all this country’s problems!”.

I plan to write a more detailed post for budget day. But this part couldn’t wait.

Let’s look at some of the news stories from the past few days:

This has been happening for years. The government has been scapegoating people in poverty and saying “it’s your fault the country has no money”. But the stories are coming thick and fast, the cuts are becoming more brutal and next week’s budget is going to hurt. A lot.


Boiling point: when marching isn’t enough.

We like a good protest. Y’know, as long as it doesn’t get too rowdy. In the last five years I myself have been on two national protests, March for the Alternative and A Future That Works. We stood with thousands of people, waved our signs, shouted some stuff, went to Hyde Park where people said stuff on a stage, we all cheered, we all got on our buses and trains and went home.

The general public like an organised protest. They like it when people march and say “we’re cross!”. They’re not so fond of it when it gets “out of hand”. Case in point: the student protest from a few years ago. The London riots. Maybe it’s because we’re British. We don’t like to make a fuss. We’re good at asking nicely, we don’t like conflict and we tut at people who are too emotive in expressing their anger. We’re less “¡Viva la Revolución!” and more “Down with this sort of thing”.

I find it very difficult to know where to draw the line. The one thing I can categorically say is that while these marches have demonstrated the force of feeling behind the country’s situation, no-one with any clout is taking a blind bit of notice. We are given our allotted space and allotted time to shout and then it’s done. This method is not working.We can gather in London and hear people speak until we’re all collectively blue in the face. Nothing is changing. In fact, it’s getting worse. Which means people are getting angrier, and organised marches are not going to cut it any more.

The news media love a good protest, and they love it when it all kicks off as they have the chance to play the same 5 second loop of someone with a scarf over their face throwing something at a police officer, while talking to experts about how it’s always a few bad ones that ruin it for everyone else and isn’t it a shame. How everyone was having a lovely time until these angry people spoiled it.

Thing is, protests aren’t meant to be a nice day out. A lot of the time they *are*, but they’re meant to convey a nation’s feelings about something they feel is an injustice. They are meant to put pressure on people with power until things change. This isn’t happening. And the worrying thing is, when people feel they aren’t being listened to, they get angrier, and more frustrated. And then when the news media tell them their anger is bad, that they were wrong, then they get even angrier.

I wonder where the boiling point will be. I wonder what happens when you have an angry populace who now figure they’ve got nothing left to lose. Whatever happens, it ain’t gonna be pretty.


Be angry.

It’s a sad, but I suppose not wholly unexpected, morning. At this point it’s almost certain that the Conservative Party will be governing the country for another five years. We all know what this means for the poor, the sick and disabled and the vulnerable. We know what this means for the NHS, education and welfare. The poor will get poorer, people will die, foodbanks will get busier and the rich will get richer.

So, this is when we really start the fight. We’ve campaigned and marched and shouted for five years and no-one listened. We need to make a louder noise. We need to get in the way. We need to make it very clear that we will not put up with this for the next five years.

Your MP is your elected representative in government. Make sure they know what you think. Government doing something you don’t like? Tell them how you think they need to vote. Even if your MP is the Toriest of Tories, tell them. Go and see them, write to them, make a noise. And tell everyone else you know to do the same.

Protest. Shout. Make your voice heard. Refuse to be silent. The media will put the disenfranchised against the poor, the sick against the homeless. They will tell people that you are scum, that you are not worth it, that you need to be quiet, that you deserve it. Do not listen to them. Be loud, be cross and be angry.

If we have to do another five years of this, we will fight. Don’t take it lying down.


Going Beyond the Barriers

They say things always come in threes…today seems to be no exception. Today a government minister showed us that you can in fact steal thousands of pounds from your boss and still expect to be in a job. Today is also my two month PIP-iversary. Bring out the cake!

But, most importantly, today is the release of the Spartacus Network’s second major report into benefit reform, Beyond the Barriers. This report describes in detail the failings of the Employment Support Allowance system, the major failings of the Work Capability Assessment and, crucially, makes recommendations for changes in the system so that instead of being a barrier to finding work, the system supports those disabled people who can work into appropriate work.

Currently we have a welfare and support system for the sick and disabled that pretends to give with one hand and takes more away with the other. ESA was supposed to be a way for disabled people to get into work. Yet Access to Work schemes are underfunded and poorly run, and this week it was also announced that the Disabled Student Allowance – a vital means of support for sick and disabled students to continue accessing university and higher education – was to dramatically cut down on the list of things it would provide, meaning services such as note takers in lectures would now no longer be covered. With a welfare system designed to punish rather than encourage, it is clear that the ESA and WCA are not fit for purpose.

Beyond the Barriers sets out a visionary review of Employment and Support Allowance, making recommendations such as having a case worker that supports the claimant through the process of acquiring work rather than leaving them with no support whatsoever. It also suggests that claimants should be able to manage their own budgets so they can direct the funds where they would find most useful – getting appropriate equipment etc., and making sure their return to work is tailor-made.

This is a ground-breaking report. This focuses on treating sick and disabled people like people, not figures. This proposes a positive attitude by the system towards returning to work, rather than penalising those who can’t. It is vital that the ESA process accepts the fact that some people will never be able to undertake work. The stress and fear inflicted upon those who are pursued by the DWP means that ESA is viewed as a punishment for sick and disabled people, rather than a means to a better way of life.

See the full Beyond the Barriers report HERE.

Find out what you can do to support Beyond the Barrier and the Spartacus Network on Sue Marsh’s blog HERE.


The Tories: Making Children Pay.

This post was prompted by Sue Marsh’s post about the Benefit Cap. You can read it here.

**Edited to add: Now, with new OMG!HOUSING!BENEFIT! section at the end of the post!!**

The new benefits cap states that no-one will be able to claim more than £26K per year in benefits. This figure is based on a couple, but it also states that it doesn’t matter how many children this couple have it will still remain at a cap of 26K. The reasoning behind the 26K figure is because the coalition say that this is an average household’s income. As Sue rightly pointed out in her blog entry:

“Of course it isn’t, because families bringing in 26k are likely to get a whole host of tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit too, but let’s not spoil a good bit of spin eh?”

This got me thinking, and two things (among MANY issues with this whole idea) stood out for me.

  1. That 26K would be the average household income for most households.
  2. That it doesn’t matter how many children you have, you still get 26K

So, to test both these theories I had to do a few calculations. I tell a lie, I hopped over to the awesome website turn2us.org.uk who are brilliant at telling you your benefit entitlement just by you plugging your details into their website. I came up with a partly-biographical-partly-hypothetical family and created a couple of scenarios.

**note: in both these scenarios I just plugged in my and my partner’s details for simplicity – dates of birth, local authority, social housing, rent, council tax etc. The only difference was I made us both non-disabled so I could take that out of the equation. I also gave us three school-aged (10,7 and 5) children, all born on Jan 1st. Birthdays seem to be an expensive time in my fictional household. I also assumed we had the “allowed” number of bedrooms in both cases to take out any Bedroom Tax complications**

Scenario 1 – Married couple with 3 children. Both partners work 37 hours a week at £6.75 an hour (just over minimum wage) bringing our joint income to £26,000 (the “average income” figure from the government). No other earnings/savings/capital.

Scenario 2Exactly the same as above, but with neither partner working. No income of any sort recorded in the calculation.

Scenario 1 results:

hb1 A benefit allowance of £7,822.88. Add that to the income of £26,000 and you get a total of £33,822.88.

Scenario 2 results:

hb2A benefit allowance of £23,992.28. Which is £9,830.60 lower than the first scenario.

So, what does all this mean, really? Is this realistic? Possibly not entirely – the earned income is GROSS income for a start, so there will be some tax and NI to pay which will take it down a bit. But I think we can safely say that Sue’s thought that earning 26K would still get you additional benefits on top is clearly correct. – it gets you nearly £8,000 a year on top of your £26K.

But, I think this hypothetical scenario raises some interesting questions. Firstly, is this morally right? The Tories are all about “making work pay” and there’s no denying that the working fictional family is definitely better off than the unemployed one. Is this a good thing? Does this mean that our fictional unemployed family should “get off the sofa and look for work?” Maybe. But, to me the really worrying thing is about the rest of this fictional family. Our three fictional children.

Having our three fictional children has earned our non-working family an extra lump of cash, that’s for certain. But, the cap for benefits is set at 26K no matter how many children you have. This smacks of the “well, if you can’t afford ’em, don’t have ’em!” attitude but that doesn’t account for a massive amount of societal problems that cause people to have children they may not be able to afford. The lack of aspirations among young women who can only see themselves having kids as a future. People who haven’t been educated enough in sexual health to take proper precautions to avoid unwanted pregnancy. The closure of sexual health clinics, youth projects, sexual health workers whose job it was to bring down the rate of unwanted pregnancy.

I believe that you should not punish children for the actions of their parents. This policy of the benefit caps does exactly that. It is unethical, it will push more children into poverty and it will punish children for the acts of their parents, and punish parents for not being able to access resources they need. The policy is a punishment, not an incentive, and only does more to push the vulnerable further into poverty. It needs to go.

**if you feel my calculations or my conclusions are wrong in any way or you feel I’ve misinterpreted something, please let me know in comments. I’m very interested to see what people think.**

EDITED TO ADD: THE OMG!HOUSING!BENEFIT! CLAUSE (because I’m going to have to point this out 30 times in the comments otherwise…)

“But, the people on benefits will get their rent paid for them while the other family won’t, so it’s not accurate!”

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Please see Exhibit A. It’s a part of the benefits breakdown from Scenario 2, our family on benefits. As you can see, by the big red ring I’ve drawn round it, Housing and Council Tax Benefits are INCLUDED in this family’s total amount of money for the year.That means that, just like the working family have to pay their £500 a month of rent from their total income of £33,822.88, the family on benefits have to pay their £500 a month rent from their total income of £23,922.28. I haven’t missed anything out, both have to pay the rent.

(Seriously guys, trust me on this one. Not only am I currently on Housing Benefit myself, I worked for 3 years for the local council in their housing department and spent 8 hours a day talking to people about their rent and housing benefit. Please believe me when I say I know how Housing Benefit works!!)