Monthly Archives: October 2015

Govt response to Work & Pensions Committee Sanctions Report

The government’s response to the House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee report on ‘Benefit Sanctions Policy beyond the Oakley Review’ was published yesterday, 22 October. The response itself, together with an accompanying letter from Iain Duncan Smith to the Committee chair, is at

The accompanying Parliamentary statement by Iain Duncan Smith is at

Reaction by the Committee chair Frank Field is at

I will be circulating a detailed analysis of the response in the next week or so. Meanwhile, here are the key points about what will and will not change about the sanctions regime as a result of the response:

* The government is continuing to refuse the broad independent review of sanctions which the Committee and others have repeatedly called for.
* Its response (pp.2-3) also deliberately evades the Committee’s specific call for review of the effectiveness of the lengthening of sanctions introduced in 2012.
* The government claims that it will trial a ‘system of warning’ before a sanction is imposed. However the Committee (and Oakley in July 2014) called for a first ‘failure’ to lead to a warning letter, and only a second or subsequent failure to result in a sanction. What the government is proposing is different. It is simply a delay of 14 days in imposing a sanction, during which the claimant will be able to make representations.
* The government has admitted at that 47,239 JSA claimants (6.9%) who were sanctioned in 2014 did not receive notification before the money failed to appear in their account. Applying this percentage to the whole period of the Coalition government, there will have been about 279,000 cases where claimants had their benefit stopped before being notified. This issue was highlighted by Oakley in July 2014. The government now proposes to deal with this by reintroducing computer-generated notification, but admits that this will be unlikely to be 100% successful.
* The current provision that sanctioned claimants, other than arbitrarily-defined ‘vulnerable’, cannot apply for hardship payments for the first two weeks of a sanction is responsible for destitution and food bank use on a large scale. The Committee firmly recommended that all sanctioned claimants should be able to apply from day one. The government has now agreed only to consider extending the definition of ‘vulnerability’ for the purposes of day one application to ‘a wider group of claimants’. Duncan Smith’s parliamentary statement, but not the response itself, specifically mentions people with mental health conditions and the homeless. The government says it has also speeded up the hardship claim process so that awards are paid within 3 days, and that subject to feasibility the decision maker will in future set up an appointment to discuss hardship payments where claimants are ‘vulnerable’ or have children.
* The government has flatly refused the Committee’s recommendation to track what happens to claimants in terms of employment and claimant status after a sanction, in spite of clearly having the capability to do so.
* The government appears to have given up any attempt to ensure that the one third of all sanctioned claimants whose alleged ‘failure’ is not actively seeking work do not wrongly lose housing benefit as a result. These claimants are ‘disentitled’ as well as ‘sanctioned’ and the response (p.5) accepts that HB may be affected as a result. A recent clarificatory circular to local authorities, HB Bulletin U1-2015 (30 Sep 2015) related only to the two thirds of penalties which are purely ‘sanctions’ and not ‘disentitlements’.

With best wishes

Dr David Webster
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
Urban Studies
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Glasgow


Social Security Summit

Unite Calling Note
What: Unite Community and Public and Commercial Union (PCS) social security summit 
When: Saturday 31 October 2015 between 10.30 – 16.30
Where: Maple House, 150 Corporation Street, Birmingham, B4 6TB
Unite Community, and Public and Commercial Services (PCS) hold Social Security summit
This is the first ‘myth busting’ conference that brings together those who need benefits and those who administer them to mutually support one another against the austerity agenda.
The keynote speakers include:
  • Unite general secretary Len McCluskey
  • PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey will tell delegates: “This government sneaked its way into power by refusing to tell the electorate in May that the true nature of its underlying plan was savage cuts to the welfare system.
“We know that ministers are mounting a twin-pronged attack on the financial support that people in work receive and in swingeing cuts to those out of work.  The strain on frontline benefit workers, who have to deal with desperate people every day, is appalling. 
“That is why we are bringing these two communities together. It is vital that those who need benefits and those who administer them understand that this dreadful situation is not their creation, but manufactured in Number 10 and cruelly refined next door in Number 11 by chancellor George Osborne.” 
Workshops at the summit will cover topics including:
  • Building a broad-based coalition with charities, religious bodies, food banks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • Using the media to get out the real stories about welfare budget cuts
  • Engaging with women, the disabled, young people and BAEM communities disproportionally hit by the welfare axe
  • Campaigning against the Welfare Reform and Work bill
  • Lobbying politicians to build support to stop the cuts
Members of the media are warmly invited to attend this conference and should get in touch with Unite director of communications, Pauline Doyle by email, so they can get the necessary accreditation.
Angela Appleby and Robbie Faulds will be attending this conference on behalf of Durham Unite Community. They will provide a report on the event for Durham members.

Call for £10 an hour Living Wage

Unite have issued the following press release, calling for a £10 an hour living wage as savage tax credit cuts are set to bite.

The axe to working tax credits will inflict further financial hardship to those working in the six million jobs in the UK paying less than the ‘living wage’, Unite, the largest union in the country, said today (Monday 12 October).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the proportion of jobs paying less than the ‘living wage’ outside London rose from 21 per cent to 23 per cent between April 2012 and April 2014. The figure for the capital rose by six per cent to 19 per cent – well below the rest of the UK.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This is a double whammy, not only are bosses failing to pay the ‘living wage’, but these workers are the very people who will be hit by the savage cuts to the working tax credits.

“Three million low-waged families could lose £1,000-a-year or, in some cases, up to £1,700 when the cuts to the tax credits come into force next April.

“The dismal failure of employers to pay the ‘living wage’ disproportionately hits those in low-paid, insecure work and also women.

“Ministers are allowing the drawbridge to be drawn up against the low-paid getting a proper wage and condemning millions to a life of grinding poverty, where putting food on the table is a daily struggle.

“The current rate for the ‘living wage’ is £7.85 an hour outside London and £9.15 in the capital, so you can see the phoney national living wage of £7.20, coming into force for the over 25-year-olds next April, is already inadequate in providing a decent income.

“The ‘living wage’, which is voluntary, needs to be made compulsory and should be £10 an hour – and Britain’s companies, with strong cash reserves, can well afford to pay it.”

New rates will be announced on 2 November at the start of ‘living wage’ week, and could see the UK rate edge towards £8 an hour.

NEYH Activist Information Bulletin

Here is the latest edition of the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside Activist Information Bulletin.  Well worth a read

Information Bulletin – Issue 13 – October 2015

Ross Pritchard Memorial Essay 2015

RobbieCongratulations to our very own Durham Unite Community member Robbie Faulds, who is the winner of the Ross Pritchard Memorial Committee 2015 essay competition.  Well done Robbie, we are very proud of you!

Robbie wins the prize of £750. Read his essay below.

Robbie Faulds – Ross Pritchard Memorial Essay 2015

Tax Payers Alliance

You may have read some of the comments made by the right wing Tax Payers Alliance during fringe meetings at the Tory party Conference. In case you did not the comments surrounded cutting benefits for pensioners and went like this:

“The first of which will sound a little bit morbid – some of the people… won’t be around to vote against you in the next election. So that’s just a practical point, and the other point is they might have forgotten by then.”

“If you did it now, chances are that in 2020 someone who has had their winter fuel cut might be thinking, ‘Oh I can’t remember, was it this government or was it the last one? I’m not quite sure.'”

Classy, real classy. Make no mistake this group are very influential, responsible for some of the worst attacks on the welfare state and the darlings of the right wing media.

But guess what? They have been found out. Their director does NOT pay tax!

“The admission, made by Matthew Elliott, the TPA’s chief executive and founder, is potentially embarrassing for the Conservative party, which has close links to the group that claims to be “the guardian of taxpayers’ money, the voice of taxpayers in the media and their representative at Westminster”

You can read the full story here. It is one of those “you couldn’t make it up” moments and the hypocrisy is breathtaking

Solidarity Autumn Edition

Below is the Autumn 2015 Edition of Solidarity.

It includes articles on the newly launched Welfare Charter as well as the recent Coroner’s comments on the’ fit for work’ test.

Click here to read: Solidautumn 2015