Sunday, 28 April 2013

Universal Credit - and a sinister development in social housing

The vow of silence on the subject of the Work Programme continues in place, while the government works out how to fiddle the figures.  Perhaps the idea is to blame the "customers" for not being willing to work.  At the moment the spotlight is on Universal Credit, which begins with a tiny "pathfinder" in Ashton under Lyne tomorrow.  Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian on Friday described the pilot and its limitations; and the BBC's Sunday news programme has looked at the problems.  The pilot will include only a very few people, about 300 a month; all of them will be new claimants, not on any other benefits than JSA, single and with no dependants, but with bank accounts.  It would be hard to get that wrong, you would think.  Even when it rolls out nationally in October, families and children will not be included.  But plenty of people anticipate the problems.  A charity which works with young men under 25 says that lots of them can't use a computer.  The local council has installed computer hubs, but points out that the online form, which takes about 45 minutes to complete, has no "save" function.  Tameside CAB is worried about people falling into debt because of monthly payments.
The IT is the worry, of course.  There are so many different interfaces and databases which have to be meshed.  And it's been costing £500,000 a day to develop the systems.  The BBC piece said that Iain Duncan Smith has complained about the way UC is being presented, so they asked him or someone else from the DWP onto the programme - but no one was available.
Nick Cohen in the Observer has a different take on UC.  He says that it "poses a serious threat to women's independence".  That's because it will lump all benefits, including tax credits (but not child benefit) into one payment made into one bank account.  And that is far more likely to be the man's.  If you doubt that, read the article and the link it has to the Women's Budget Group.  Cohen links this attitude to the religious background of IDS's special adviser, Phillippa Stroud, who is also head of his think tank, the Centre for Social Justice.  She's an evangelical Christian, married to the boss of a church which teaches "male servant leadership and joyful female submission".  Whether this is relevant or not, I don't know.

If you're looking for a home in Somerset, you might want to avoid the Yarlington Housing Group.  This housing association, according to the Independent, makes its new residents sign a Household Ambition Plan.  It's so sinister that it has caused a storm of anger.  But expect more of this sort of thing.  Unless you own your own home and don't claim any sort of benefits, you must learn to tug your forelock and obey your masters.


  1. I've had an internal debate for a while over the idea of prepayment cards for social security recipients: on the one hand it is morally wrong to instruct other people how to live their lives; on the other forcing many of the people that I see, to spend money on a healthy diet, exercise and self-improvement strikes me as a wise thing to do.

    Those who smoke and eat unhealthy diets are, by in large, from the lower socio-economic groups; forcing them to eat a health diet will save millions for the publicly funded NHS. Indeed, there is an argument that obesity and its related, (completely preventable illness), could break the NHS completely.

    Smoking has been a public health issue for decades, and public education campaigns have resulted in better educated people abandoning smoking

    Requiring people to educate themselves for employment, is similarly an idea that there are few arguments to counter.

    To me the issue that causes concern is the tone that the debate is framed in. There are those like myself, who want to improve peoples lives and encourage them to become more productive citizens; there are others, however, who seek to use such means as a way of imposing a form of social control that is intended to keep a large group of people firmly in their place.

    In the medium of exchange, all are equal. An unemployed person queuing for a cup of coffee has the same status as the solicitor or doctor standing behind him - a customer.

    Few people in the world are truly independent, employees depend on their employers for their salary or wages; business by necessity has a "dependency" culture on its customers.

    Anybody who has a life insurance policy or an insurance policy knows that the premiums they pay and the sort of cover they get depend on their health and predisposition to illness. These policies are paid to private companies out of the pocket of the people wishing to be covered.

    Instead of giving claimants no choice over the decisions they make by threatening homelessness the solution is to make people responsible for their actions by limiting access to NHS services for those who smoke, or are overweight.

    Such a course of action has the effect of making all people level, and it is fair because it makes people responsible for the choices that they make.

    Finally, the notion of punishing social housing tenants for not accessing education has to be put in the context of the existing rules for entitlement of benefits. A person cannot continue to receive state benefits while engaged in a course of full time education or training. Meshing part-time education is very difficult because of the requirement to be actively seeking work and what hours a claimant is expected to be available.

    So, the necessity to take education or face the threat of loosing a tenancy is placing people in no-win situation.

    Civil rights go much further than the right to protest, and to choose ones religion without fear of persecution. Civil rights include being free to make choices and then being required to live with the consequences.

    Freedom does not mean being instructed what to eat, drink or do and being punished if you don't choose to comply.

    1. There are so many flaws in your argument that it's difficult to know where to begin. But in your first paragraph you say: "forcing many of the people that I see, to spend money on a healthy diet, exercise and self-improvement strikes me as a wise thing to do." You have made a judgement about "many people" who are clearly not people like you. You are wise. They come from "lower socio-economic groups". Really? You get more patronising as you continue. But you want to "improve people's lives" (where have I heard that before?) rather than impose social control.
      Forgive me, but this sounds like the typical condescension of someone for whom this is all theory, uninformed by real experience or understanding.

    2. ... historian, you're absolutely right. the poster has fallen for the tory propaganda hook, line and sinker. he or she sees people on benefits as "them" not "us" or "me". how would s/he like someone at the jobcentre to judge his or her spending and lifestyle choices?

      he or she has also fallen for the stereotyping nonsense in the tory media about spending on booze, fags, and gambling. what, on £53 per week? you must be joking! i spend more than that on gas.

      he or she views u/e people as an unworthy minority. would s/he feel the same way about the third of the adult population in spain if s/he lived there? are they all scroungers?

    3. "Requiring people to educate themselves for employment, is similarly an idea that there are few arguments to counter."

      I sincerely do hope you don't work for a WP provider then. Many clients have tried to undertake courses to improve their employability. Only to be told funding is not available!

      "In the medium of exchange, all are equal. An unemployed person queuing for a cup of coffee has the same status as the solicitor or doctor standing behind him - a customer."

      Again, I do hope you are not employed by a WP provider. With the WP (as with it's ND and FND predecessors) a jobseeker does NOT have the same status as a solicitor or doctor or anyone else for that matter.
      A customer at a coffee shop has CHOICE. He / she can go elsewhere or take a flask of tea with them to work instead!

      The big difference is the WP is mandatory for starters. No choice there. Secondly, there seems to be little variation between what is on offer from one provider to the next. Again choice is severely lacking.

    4. I'm afraid that your reply to my post is flawed; you see I have been unemployed for over two years and, therefore, am fully qualified to speak about these issues.

      My reference to the "people that I see" refers to people that I see doing their grocery shopping in a branch of Lidl; like me they,unquestionably, belong to the "lower socio-economic groups".

      I choose to purchase foods such as pasta and tuna and avoid chocolate, pre-packed meals and pizzas.

      I also use my small stipend of Jobseekers Allowance to fund sports classes to stay fit and to fund self-study courses on IT which might assist me to get another job.

      My perspective on the world that I now inhabit is informed by my previous experience of life. Many of the people I encounter, like myself, are in extremely difficult circumstances; unlike me they seem to do as much as possible to make these circumstances worse.

      This saddens me. Positive thinking cannot make matters better: it cannot change a thing in practical terms, but the most important factor in any survival situation is a strong mental attitude.

      So you don't have a washing machine - neither have I for three years. I choose to put my cloths on and wash them under the shower, and hang them up to dry. I do not choose to walk around smelling like a rotting cat, which is a choice that all too many of those I come across make.

      I do not have rich relatives nor do I have any savings. I live from one benefit payment to the next.

      The idea of introducing prepayment cards, (which I referred to in my post), would mean I would be unable to fund my IT class or pay for my sporting activities: I would be adversely affected by it in the same way that other recipients would.

      Finally you criticised me for having formed a judgement; as I am not only currently unemployed but also served as a Royal Marine for five years I feel I am entitled to one.

      I enjoy reading your blog, but sometimes you do seem to make the same sort of assumptions that you accuse contributors of making.

    5. I'm glad that you want to enter into a debate, but my comment stands. Being unemployed for 2 years means that you have learned to cope the hard way. I don't know how you fund your sports and IT classes - I certainly couldn't have when I was unemployed. But okay, you know how to be thrifty. However, you still want to criticise those who you feel cope less well then you, or who spend their money on things you think less sensible. You are not "fully qualified" to judge other people - none of us are.

    6. Can't remember exactly what I said Historian, gist of it was

      "Those who smoke and eat unhealthy diets are, by in large, from the lower socio-economic groups; forcing them to eat a health diet will save millions for the publicly funded NHS."

      The problem with payment cards is that they may only be accepted by certain supermarkets. And it was only certain supermarkets which had problems with horsemeat wasn't it? Forcing people to use payment cards which can only be used in the cheaper shops is therefore not guaranteeing them a more healthy diet as they'd be forced to eat horsemeat and not get the choice of more healthy organically produced beef......

      The media are very quiet on the fact that the horsemeat was contaminated with bute and therefore wasn't designated for human consumption, they've either ignored it or run with the celebrity chef angle of all the nice things you can cook with horsemeat instead. It's a potential health problem.

      And, before you say that's a one off, people want cheap food. And if they want cheap food the supermarkets will supply it even if it means screwing the producers, or mistakenly buying in mislabeled "beef" from abroad because it is cheaper than home produced regulated stuff. The government will definitely go for the cheapest supplier as well.

      Finally, a large part of NHS spending is on geriatric care (43% of NHS funds for hospital and community spending, which in itself accounts for 60% of NHS funding, in 2003-2004 was on geriatric care, for only 16% of the population), as we have an aging population. Again, the media are very quiet about that, better to blame the fatties (although they'd be slammed if they worded it that way!) because we'll all get old, although we may not all be obese.

      Link to report can be found here

  2. POLLY - I accidentally deleted your comment. Can you re-send it, please.

  3. I was just listening to the Radio (Radio 4) - an item on Universal Credit. Up pops the man that will win the next election for the Tories - Liam Byrne.
    Apparently under him UC will be limited to a 2 year period. No mention of what happens then! Maybe the streets full of starving ex-UC claimants? Maybe Work Camps?
    He seems to be trying to compete with the atrocious IDS for who can be hardest on the unemployed. Not just a race to the bottom but a race to the cemetery then? Someone should remind Labour where their roots are and they should find the courage to offer a real alternative to the present self interested Gobsh****s. We are in real danger of being stuck with the present crew for ever.

    1. It won't just be 'the unemployed' though. Universal Credit is also designed to encompass those who receive housing and council tax benefit, as well as those who receive JSA. I wonder if Byrne has forgotten that most people who receive benefits other than JSA are actually in work! Many people in work have needed to receive housing and council tax benefit for years because their wages are so low, so how on earth does Byrne think they would manage if they were only allowed to receive any money under Universal Credit for just 2 years!

  4. I saw him on BBC breakfast saying the same things, I had to check the headlines from the weekend to see if he had crossed the floor of the house!

    And then it dawned on me that the smoke and mirrors dept was in full effect that he was trying to appeal to disgruntled conservatives to nick a few votes, and that as soon as the labour party gets elected they will bring that policy in followed a year later, by a new benefit that paraded as the safety net for the long term unemployed.......

    Like I said, smoke and mirrors.

    I doubt I will ever vote again in my lifetime as the politicians have spent my entire life telling me what to do, and whatever party they represent I have had to work harder,longer,and pay more taxes, and my quality of life has never really improved......

  5. The argument put around by right-wing politicians and groups like Yarlington HG that if you stay in school and look after yourself you will be rewarded with a fullfiling life is rubbish. I am well educated (I have a 2:1 in History) and run/cycle/swim every day but I have been out of work 4yrs. You know why? Because there are very, very few opportunies to make a decent living. It sickens me that politicians are still advocating that we live in a meritocracy. We do not and have not since the 1970's (the end of the Golden Age of the world economy). If anything we are heading back toward a more rigid and repressive society.

  6. Just drawing everyone's attention to a new sitcom on ITV1 - "Job Lot" Mondays at 9.30 pm It's set at a Jobcentre!

  7. Always worth remembering that the term "meritocracy" was coined in a satirical context, Michael Young having correctly identified the problem that if one believes one lives in a meritocracy, then one has to accept that just as successful and priveleged people deserve their rewards, those who are less successful equally deserve what they've got. A meritocracy involves associating wealth and power with effort and just reward and arguably with concepts such as being morally better than people who don't enjoy those advantages.

    This was exemplified recently by the appearance of ex-Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins on some Channel 4 entertainment show: if you work hard enough, you can get on and get ahead. If you can't get ahead, it's a sign of laziness or possibly stupidity - if the former you deserve contempt, if the latter, maybe some sympathy but not a great deal more.

    None of this reflects the reality of many people's experiences. Inequality, based on a whole range of factors hasn't gone away and in terms of social mobility is getting worse rather than improving.

  8. Interesting article in the FT,Hoban will be taking contracts off of WP Providers that do not meet targets.

    5% off new referrals (not much of a sanction) If I read the article right,it mentions that most of the results for the WP have been in the last 3 Months(Dec-March or April-June?) Is he setting the stage for more bad news?

    1. I can't access the article - paywall - but I agree it's not much of a sanction to reduce referrals.

    2. Actually I just typed in "Work Programme" and hit the news button. What struck me was 5% would cost some Primes,Millions even at 5%,so I can only muse that they are talking about the real big Primes.

    3. When they have far more referrals than they can cope with, a 5% reduction in referrals will simply lighten the load.

    4. As the attachment fee falls away, 5% here or there isn't likely to make much difference really, and as the margins are extremely thin (or probably close to non-existant), could be accommodated by trimming workforce and service provision to match. It's no big deal, and certainly not "new" in the sense that Hoban appears to be trying to portray it.

  9. I can't access the article either. To clarify, does it state that he will be ending contracts (potentially problematic as I'd assume it would in all likelihood mean all of them are at risk) or implementing the 5% market shift from worse to better primes in each CPA? If the latter, that was always part of the plan from the end of June this year onward.


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