Universal Credit inquiry

NAWRA has sent a formal response to the Work and Pensions Committee Universal credit update inquiry.  Thank you to all the members who responded to our request for information – your help has been invaluable, as always.

NAWRA has serious concerns about Universal Credit – in particular as the full service rolls out.  We have called for a range of changes to be implemented if the full rollout is to have a chance of success.  These include:

  • Allowing alternative payment arrangements on request – allowing flexibility would ease the transition for claimants, ease the administrative burden on the DWP, and lessen the need for such a high level of personal budgeting support.
  • Recognising that for some people getting online on a daily basis may not be possible – alternatives such as phone or face to face contact need to be more readily available.
  • Verifying and paying housing costs much more quickly.
  • Taking payments for temporary housing out of the monthly assessment process so that all costs can be met as they arise and paid promptly.
  • Removing waiting days for all claimants – leaving claimants without money makes it virtually impossible to job seek effectively and put people in debt right from the start.
  • Reinstating implicit consent for advisers – so that problems can be resolved as quickly and effectively as possible.

You can download and read our full response to the inquiry.

NAWRA condemns backdoor cuts to PIP

NAWRA issued the following press release on Friday 3rd March 2017:

The government has announced shock plans to restrict entitlement to the disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) strongly refutes the claims made by government that two recent court decisions (1) in any way ‘extend’ or ‘broaden’ the meaning of the PIP regulations as claimed by government. In fact the judges simply seek to confirm the original policy intent of the DWP at the time the regulations were made. (2)

The government’s amendments seek to restrict the ability for people with mental health problems to receive help with getting around. Yet the government response to the ‘Personal Independence Payment: assessment thresholds and consultation’ of January 2012 (3) states in relation to Mobility Activity 1 (help needed with planning and following a journey) –

6.14 Concern was raised that the activity takes insufficient account of the impact of mental health conditions on mobility. We do not consider this the case. Individuals could potentially score in a number of descriptors in the activity if they cannot go outside to commence journeys because of their condition or need prompting or another person to accompany them to make a journey.

The government’s intention was clearly that Mobility Activity 1 would apply in its entirety to people with mental health problems and the judges have merely confirmed this position – there has been no change.

NAWRA asserts that the PIP amendments, both to the mobility descriptors and the daily living descriptors, amount to a substantial cut and a change from the original policy intention.

Chair of NAWRA, Alan Markey said –

‘It is not, as Theresa May has claimed, a change to ‘restore the original intention’ – it is a change to substantially move the goal posts. It is also a falsehood to say current claimants will not be affected – those currently in receipt of PIP are at risk of seeing a cut in their benefit when they are reassessed.’

Notes to editor –

  1. [2016] UKUT 531 (AAC) and [2016] UKUT 530 (AAC) – decisions of the Upper Tribunal of the Social Security Administrative Appeals Chamber
  2. This was clearly shown in the government responses to consultations at that time.
  3. As quoted at paragraph 33 of [2016] UKUT 531 (AAC)

A Basic Income in the UK – ‘what’s not to like’?

Eri Mountbatten, our North Wales elected representative on the NAWRA committee, writes about the concept of a basic (or citizens) income:

What is basic (or citizens) income?

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, the central and arguably well founded assumption is that the current welfare system is broken.  It demoralises those most vulnerable in society and creates artificial barriers to individual and societal progress by keeping welfare claimants in the so-called ‘poverty-trap’.

Proponents suggest that in order to allow citizens to achieve their full potential, citizens need to be liberated, as much as possible, from Governmental intrusion and disproportionate employer and landlord power and leverage over the lives of ordinary people.  The method?.. every citizen, rich or poor, would receive a Universal Basic Income (aka Citizens’ Income)  from the state.  Yes you heard it right.. money for nothing.  This would, according to supporters, massively reduce the financial cost of administering the welfare system; importantly, it would liberate currently untapped human potential.

Glasgow NAWRA – Friday 2nd September 2016

The NAWRA conference in Glasgow was, in a way, a historic event for NAWRA.  NAWRA conferences have, in the past, tended to focus on supporting welfare rights advisers with policy updates as well as practical skills and knowledge in order to support members to support their clients better (and rightly so).  However, in Glasgow, NAWRA reached further and gave members a chance to discuss and debate the future of welfare as a system.

At conference, we were delighted to have had Malcolm Torry, Director of the Citizen’s Income Trust, and Senior Visiting Fellow at London School of Economics as guest speaker.  Malcolm discussed the subject at length covering various models and outlining the initial results from a range of various pilots across the globe.  Notably, the Namibian pilot saw real and measurable successes.

For example, there was a gargantuan drop in administrative costs at just 3% to 4% of the total outlay of the scheme; average income rose a staggering 200% as people could now purchase the means for making an independent income; crime fell; community relations improved; economic activity rose (fastest amongst women who were also able to refuse being forced into the sex trade to survive); those suffering daily food shortages dropped from 30% to 12%; children who were malnourished fell from 42% to 17%; parents were able to support children to engage in school more.  The results have been matched elsewhere too with similar social inclusion for everyone, particular the marginalised or disempowered, with huge reductions in poverty and increases in health over time.

Member views

Although not everyone agreed (e.g. Paul Spicker, Emeritus Professor of Public Policy, Robert Gordon University had some concerns about the assumptions behind UBI) there was a very clear general consensus from members at the conference that the current system was deeply flawed and unjust.  For members, the concept seemed to at the least offer a refreshing way to help resolve some of the administrative and ethical challenges of the current system.

The subsequent workshops facilitated by Barb Jacobson (Co-ordinator of Basic Income UK) and Becca Kirkpatrick (Community organiser and Trade union activist) focused on personal stories demonstrating the ethical issues with the current system and outlined the grass-roots campaigning angles showing that there was support from Unison and others over recent months.

Similarly, members who attended were very interested in the central idea itself for the same aforementioned reasons of social justice and inclusion.  However, what was clear is that some members were hungry for more concrete ways to understand how Universal Basic Income might work in the UK in practice.

One member asked curiously, “..so how would Universal Basic Income be treated on an income support claim?.. would it be deducted like Child Benefit as once was the case?.. because if so, then it would be useless”.  Of course the same question could quite easily be applied for the current system with how Carers Allowance interacts with Universal credit.   However, it proved highly challenging to answer with any degree of authority.  The Socratic retort from the facilitators perhaps could have been, “Well, what do you think?”.

The trouble is that there are numerous potential answers to this question depending on the model used, the actual answer cannot be definitely responded to without looking at the feasibility of the various models on the proverbial table.  It certainly cannot come, easily at least, from the speakers or workshop facilitators within a 20 minute timeframe.  Rather the issues arguably need to be debated at length by politicians, stakeholders and policy-makers.  This is where we have to accept the limits of a slot at a conference like NAWRA where big ideas like Basic Income can only really be flirted with; and flirt we did.

The good news is however, that we’re not the only courters for this radical idea.  There has been a raft of debates across the UK over the last year or so in particular; not least, through the various policy review papers published via think tanks like RSA, Compass, Joseph Roundtree Foundation and many more.

The idea has also gained official support from the Scottish SNP, the Greens, Unite and recently Labour.   There was a conference in Glasgow last weekend entitled ‘Time for a Basic Income in Scotland?’.  The keynote speaker, Guy Standing, cofounder and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network and Professorial Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies helped launch the Citizens Network Scotland project and argued the case for the increasingly real prospect for a pilot of Basic Income Scotland (for example in Fife).  Further, the Work and Pensions Committee is also holding a one-off oral evidence session on Basic (or Citizens’) income at the University of Birmingham on 12th January 2017.  The session will also examine arguments for and against introducing a Basic or Citizen’s income in the UK.  The idea is gaining a great deal of momentum.

I am no political scientist, sociologist or indeed, philosopher.. but I do like to think that I am a bit of a campaigner.  Like many NAWRA members I have seen first-hand the pain and suffering of those reliant on welfare.  As a committee member of NAWRA with research and policy interests, I have also noticed that no matter how much money they throw at what they perceive to be the problems, policy-makers are consistently failing to deliver a system that is either efficient, effective or humane.  The Harrington Reviews are testament to this ongoing tragedy.

Like it or not, it is a serious policy idea now and the welfare reform agenda has inadvertently provided the justification for it.  Basic Income could well be an idea whose time ‘may have come’; after nearly 10 years of cruel and failed welfare policy reforms, perhaps we should ask ourselves, “What’s not to like?”.

Call to action

Although NAWRA remains neutral on this policy, we believe that it is important to engage with the debate.  We also believe that it is vital that we have a system that is fit for purpose, fair to those it claims to support, and helps everyone to realise their potential with dignity.

If you believe that the time is now for a Basic Income to be introduced into the UK, why not check out the Basic Income UK statement (which NAWRA helped to shape) and consider endorsing it.

If you would like to engage with the Work and Pensions inquiry on a Citizens Income in the UK, please send a brief overview of your background and interest in the topic, including any relevant work, to workpencom@parliament.uk by Friday 2nd December.  More information is available from the official Parliament website.

Alternatively, if you would like to support NAWRA to engage with this inquiry by sending in your comments or concerns, please send Eri your thoughts via email and he will do his best to include these in the response from NAWRA.

Thank you!