Durham, 12 December 2014

Only a couple of days to go until our conference in Durham.

Just a quick reminder that we have The Right Reverend Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, as our honoured guest. We are very proud to have secured such a high profile speaker to give our first annual Phil Hanns Memorial Lecture.

In a week where the Church has criticised benefit sanctions and other delays as key contributors to UK poverty, it is timely that we have the Rt Rev Butler as our guest. We are sure that you will all welcome him to NAWRA.

The full agenda along with details of social events can be found on the meetings page

Is the writing finally on the wall for the WCA?

NAWRA members will be aware of prominent reports being published that have highlighted significant problems with the application and administration of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and by its contractors, most notably Atos. In July 2014, the Work and Pensions Select Committee published their report on the WCA and called for a “fundamental redesign of ESA”. Following that report, in August 2014, NAWRA published its own response to the final Independent Review of the WCA calling for a “radical change” in the way claimants are treated under the scheme.

Dr Paul Litchfield has now published the fifth and final ‘Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment’ (available at http://tinyurl.com/litchfield5). Dr Litchfield says that despite the WCA being operational since 2008, it has not yet had a chance to “bed down” due to various changes. Although Dr Litchfield has shied away from recommending a fundamental redesign of the system, he says that if such change were to take place then he would recommend a number of key issues to be taken into account.

NAWRA welcomes the fact that the vast majority of his recommendations reflect the findings and recommendations highlighted in our own response to the consultation (available at http://tinyurl.com/pjq67c7).

We trust that the Government will act promptly to make meaningful and radical changes to the culture of the DWP, and of its contractors, to help ensure that claimants are not treated with suspicion ‘by default’ and instead are treated as a “whole person” with sensitivity, value, dignity and respect.

Universal Credit – past earning consultation

NAWRA has submitted a response to the Social Security Advisory Committee consultation concerning the government’s intention that ‘surplus earnings’ from the previous six months should be taken into account when a person reclaims universal credit (UC).

The proposal suggests that any ‘surplus earnings’ – defined as earnings more than just £100 (less than £25 per week) over the ‘nil UC threshold’ – will be used to reduce future UC payments if the claimant returns to UC within six months. NAWRA does not believe that these earnings can be considered in any way ‘surplus’. They represent essential additional income to enable households to try and lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.

We have reasserted the points made previously about the difficulties any delay in benefit payment causes, including the risk of claimants losing their housing, being forced into the hands of payday lenders and the risk of destitution. Additionally we believe that this change will act as a disincentive to work.

The DWP state that the policy is designed to prevent claimants and employers from ‘manipulating’ the system but we ask what evidence there is to support this assertion?

NAWRA does not believe that this policy could ever operate effectively. We assert that the proposal can only bring further poverty and hardship to those that already in desperate need.

Read our response.

NAWRA’s submission to SSAC on waiting days for universal credit

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) consulted on the government’s intention that certain Universal Credit claimants must wait 7 days before they are entitled to benefit.

NAWRA surveyed members to find out what they thought would be the impact of this policy.

Based on the results, we submitted our response where we stress in the strongest possible terms our complete opposition to this proposal.  What came over time and time again in the survey responses was the spiral of debt and destitution that would occur due to the cumulative effects of this policy.