UN panel criticises UK failure to uphold disabled people’s rights

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UN panel criticises UK failure to uphold disabled people’s rights” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 31st August 2017 15.37 UTC

The UK government is failing to uphold disabled people’s rights across a range of areas from education, work and housing to health, transport and social security, a UN inquiry has found.

The UN committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities examined the government’s progress in fulfilling its commitments to the UN convention on disabled people’s rights, to which the UK has been a signatory since 2007.

Its report concludes that the UK has not done enough to ensure the convention – which enshrines the rights of disabled people to live independently, to work and to enjoy social protection without discrimination – is reflected in UK law and policy.

Although it praises some initiatives by the Scottish and Welsh governments to promote inclusion, it is scathing of the UK government’s inconsistent and patchy approach to protecting disability rights and its failure to audit the impact of its austerity policies on disabled people.

It says ministers have failed to show that measures will be in place to protect disability rights when the UK leaves the European Union.

Charities and campaigners said the report was a “grim reality check” for ministers, while Labour said it highlighted how disabled people were bearing the brunt of Tory austerity policies.

Areas of concern highlighted by the report, which contains more than 60 recommendations for the UK government, include:

  • The rising numbers of disabled children educated in segregated “special schools” in the UK. The report calls for legislation to ensure mainstream schools provide “real inclusion” for disabled children.
  • High levels of poverty for disabled people and their families and reduced standards of living as result of multiple welfare reforms and benefit cuts. It calls for a review of benefit sanctions, which it says have a detrimental effect on recipients.
  • The failure of the UK government to recognise the rights of disabled people to live independently in the community. It calls on ministers to provide sufficient resources to support disabled people to live at home.

In November the same UN committee issued a scathing report on austerity policies pursued by the UK government in welfare and social care, which it described as “systematic violations” of the rights of people with disabilities. The government dismissed that report as patronising and offensive.

Kamran Mallick, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “The committee’s final observations and comments represent a grim reality check for the UK government and its record on ensuring the human rights of disabled people.”

Ellen Clifford, of the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, said the report showed the UK government was going backwards on disability rights. “It is utterly shameful that this should be happening in one of the richest nations in the world. We all now need to take a stance that enough is enough and demand that the government acknowledge reality,” she said.

Debbie Abrahams MP, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “The UN committee has found that this Tory government is still failing sick and disabled people. Their damning report highlights what many disabled people already know to be true: that they are being forced to bear the brunt of failed Tory austerity policies.”

A government spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed that this report does not accurately reflect the evidence we gave to the UN, and fails to recognise all the progress we’ve made to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives.

“We spend over £50bn a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before, and the second highest in the G7.

“We’re committed to furthering rights and opportunities for all disabled people, which is why it is encouraging that almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work in the UK over the last four years.

“We’re also a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality, which is why we supported the development of the UN convention.”

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Poundland ‘gets jobless to work for free under government scheme’

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Poundland ‘gets jobless to work for free under government scheme'” was written by Sarah Butler and Josh Halliday, for The Guardian on Wednesday 30th August 2017 10.34 UTC

Poundland has been criticised for employing jobseekers, without pay, for up to two months under a deal with the government.

Several of those who have worked on the scheme told the Guardian they had worked up to 30 hours a week for at least three weeks stacking shelves in Poundland. They were told that the work experience was voluntary but one said: “I had no say in it really.”

It’s not clear how many jobseekers have been used by Poundland under the scheme as the government said it did not collect information centrally and the work experience was managed locally by jobcentres across the country. However, one store in Bolton has taken on 21 placements since last August, according to information provided in response to a freedom of information request by the Boycott Workfare pressure group.

“Considering it is supposed to be work experience you’d think they would teach you how to work the till. But we have just been stacking shelves all day,” one person on the scheme told the Guardian.

More than one work experience participant in Bolton said that their local jobcentre had provided a bus pass to cover travel expenses and suitable clothing – of black trousers and a polo shirt. Poundland paid no wages and made no other contribution. Participants said they were not provided with any paperwork to record the time they had spent in a store.

All the participants contacted by the Guardian said they had been told they needed to do work experience by a “work coach” at their local jobcentre. The coach selected Poundland from a list of potential employers.

Poundland said it had signed a deal in January with the Department for Work and Pensions, which oversees the Jobcentre Plus work experience programme, to take jobseekers on work experience on condition that this was voluntary and not part of any benefit assessment.

It said the programme was designed to “help provide a taste of the world of work” largely for 18- to 24-year-olds with placements lasting between two and eight weeks and for between 25 to 30 hours a week. Those taking part continue to receive their benefits and store managers had been explicitly briefed that volunteers could not replace any paid employment.

“This is not work experience, this is work – and Poundland should pay for it,” said Tanya de Grunwald of the Graduate Fog website, which first revealed the existence of the Poundland work experience scheme.

A spokesman for the retailer said Poundland did not participate in work programmes such as workfare that could lead to benefits being withheld from participants. It said a number of work experience workers had been given a permanent job, but could not say exactly how many.

In 2013, the chain was at the centre of a legal action against the government by Cait Reilly, a geology graduate, who won a case arguing that it was unlawful to force her to work for free at the budget chain as a condition of her claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

A spokesman for Poundland said: “We’re sorry some of the people you spoke to felt their time with us wasn’t worthwhile. Our stores try hard to make it a positive experience and we know it has been for many. We’re always open to being told directly how to make it better.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “It’s important that all opportunities – including those in the retail sector – are made available to jobseekers to help them move towards permanent work. Work experience is entirely voluntary and gives people the chance to increase their skills and gain vital on-the-job experience, something that businesses really value.”

It said that, ideally, claimants should complete only one work experience opportunity, although it is not clear whether this happens in practice.

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Cruel welfare changes rob MS sufferers of at least £6million a year in vital benefits

Savage Tory welfare changes for sick and disabled people have effectively robbed people with Multiple Sclerosis of millions of pounds a year in vital benefit payments, new figures reveal.

Figures obtained by the MS Society, through a freedom of information request sent to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), reveal that MS sufferers moved from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) system have lost out on at least £6 million a year.

PIP was introduced in 2013 to replace DLA as the main benefit for sick and disabled people. Both DLA and PIP are designed to help claimants cover at least some of the additional costs associated with living with a long-term illness or disability, and can be claimed regardless of income or employment status.

DWP officials told the MS Society that between October 2013 and October 2016 almost one in three people (2,600) with MS who had previously received the highest rate mobility component of DLA had their payments cut after being reassessed for PIP.

The freedom of information request also discovered that nearly a quarter (800) who received the highest rate for the care component of DLA had their payments cut after reassessment for PIP.

Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, said: “These staggering figures show how PIP is failing some people with MS who need the highest level of support.

“It doesn’t make sense that people are losing money they once qualified for, when they are living with a progressive condition.”

The nationwide charity expressed concerns that too many people are being denied the benefits they are entitled to, adding that people with MS are often not given the chance to properly explain what it’s really like to live with the condition.

They added that recent changes to PIP are making it even more difficult for people to quality for the highest level of support.

Before those changes, claimants would not be be eligible for the highest level of support if they could walk more than 50 metres. However, this has now been reduced to just 20 metres.

The MS Society is calling on the UK government to urgently fix what they describe as a “broken system”, and ensure PIP assessments reflect the realities of living with MS.

A DWP spokesman said: “Under PIP 36% more Multiple Sclerosis claimants receive the highest rate of support than under DLA.

“We recognise symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis can fluctuate over time, and regular reassessments mean we can ensure people with degenerative conditions get the help they need as their condition changes.

“Assessments consider illnesses which affect sufferers during the majority of days in a year, rather than just on someone’s ‘best days’ or assessing ability on a single day.”

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Brexit ‘could spell further trouble’ for the care home sector, experts warn

At a time when the Care Home system is teetering on a knife edge, the specialist Nursing practice at Clayton Recruitment warns that the threat Brexit poses to labour availability, coupled with fewer Nurses entering the profession, stands to bring the entire system to a standstill.

This issue is further compounded by new research which reveals that an extra 71,000 care home places will be needed in England within the next eight years to cope with rising life expectancy – something that stands to put even more pressure on a system which is arguably a ‘ticking time bomb’.

Samantha Edmonson, Senior Nursing Consultant at Clayton Recruitment, said: “The care system has long suffered from a talent deficit – the simple fact is that there are not enough Nurses to cope with demand.

“And time after time the Government has been called on to put adequate measures in place which focus on getting the right skills into the profession – and crucially, keeping them.

“Despite this, however, little has been done and we are now faced with a system that is at breaking point.”



She added: “Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which reveal that net migration fell from 81,000 to 246,000 in the year to March 2017, suggest that Brexit may already be influencing people’s decision to migrate in and out of the UK which could spell further trouble for a system which relies so heavily on foreign labour.

“This, coupled with fewer Nurses entering the profession, as well an ageing population, means that urgent action needs to be taken to safeguard patients both now and in years to come.

“While the mainstream media focuses largely on negative stories about working in the arena, it is an incredibly fulfilling and varied sector and more needs to be done to publicise these aspects.

“While we need to see initiatives which entice people into the profession, it is arguably just as important that employers focus on keeping Nurses through robust talent retention and wellbeing strategies.”

Disclaimer: This is a press release from Clayton Recruitment.

DWP slammed over £39m bill for challenging sick and disabled on vital benefits

The SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson has condemned the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), after Freedom of Information requests revealed that the department spent almost £40m actively fighting appeals made by sick and disabled people challenging the loss of their benefits – despite the majority of appeals being successful.

Neil Gray MP said that the appeal success rate shows that the current system is failing and needs to be urgently reviewed to prevent people being forced through a stressful time.

He added that the current system saw them lose much needed financial support, and called on the government to spend this money on services not legal battles.

According to The Independent’s FoI findings, the DWP in 2016 spent £22m processing claimants’ initial appeals, and a further £17m taking cases to courts that were not settled during the earlier stages in order to remove benefits crucial to those who are sick and who have disabilities.

Within this period the UK government lost 62% of tribunal cases when challenging those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – benefits which supports people who are sick or have disabilities that hinders their ability to work.

The figure stands at 65% for tribunal cases against people on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The findings come a week after the Chair of the influential UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities warned that the Tory government’s welfare cuts have created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people across the UK.

Neil Gray MP, the SNP’s Westminster Social Justice spokesperson, said: “The figures revealed by The Independent are almost too staggering to believe.

“Put simply it shines the light on a callous Tory government that will attempt to stop people from receiving benefits at any cost, but will scrimp and save on providing support to those who need it most. We have seen this in particular with the shameful cut to ESA work-related activity group of £30 a week.

“Rather than supporting those that are sick and disabled, the UK government instead saw it fit to use almost £40m of taxpayers’ money to needlessly bring claimants to courts to strip away financial support that is vital for their day to day needs. This is money that should be spent supporting our ill and disabled people not legal battles.

“The DWP seem to want to put further stress and anxiety on people. They must immediately end its cruel long-standing approach to those that are struggling in our society and instead adopt a policy that seeks to help those in positions of need, rather than pushing them closer to the brink.”

His comments were echoed by Labour MP, Frank Field, who also chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee. “What’s appalling is that the [Government] is prepared to spend £39m of taxpayers’ money against people who are desperately fighting off destitution”, he said.

Mr Field added: “We clearly need a new compact between the [Government] and claimants, otherwise this injustice will continue to act as a recruiting agent for food banks.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at the MS Society, said: “These exorbitant costs point to a welfare system that clearly doesn’t make sense. We know that many people with MS aren’t getting accurate decisions the first time around.

“Being forced to go through the lengthy and stressful appeals process is a waste of time and money, and also harms people’s health.”

Chief executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: “Last year Citizens Advice helped people with almost 400,000 PIP issues, up 37 per cent on the previous 12 months.

“Many come to us concerned that the outcome of their PIP assessment doesn’t accurately reflect the support needs they have because of their health issues.

“The next steps can be time-consuming, distressing and even costly if people have to pay to gather additional evidence.”

This is a modified press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP). Featured Image: DWP headquarters, Caxton House, London. Photo by Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

Bishops call for £5 child benefit top-up

Bishop William Nolan of the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission has backed the national launch of the “Give Me Five”, Child Benefit Top-up Campaign, to increase Child Benefit in Scotland by £5 per child per week.

The campaign will be launched on Wednesday 30th August 2017 at the Conforti Institute, Calder Avenue, Coatbridge, ML5 4JS at 9.30am.

The “Give Me Five” campaign aims to lift 30,000 children in Scotland out of poverty by increasing child benefit by £5 a week per child.

While the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill is welcomed, setting out as it does ambitious targets to eradicate child poverty in Scotland by 2030, this campaign seeks urgent action now to meet the needs of the 260,000 children living in poverty in Scotland today.

For families struggling to make ends meet, £5 a week could mean a week of proper breakfasts, a warm school coat, or the ability to share in out of school activities.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Bishop William Nolan, President of the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, said: “For a growing number of children, this is not the Scotland of equality, fairness and opportunity that our politicians tell us they wish to achieve.

“I would urge politicians of all parties to support this initiative and act now to reduce the number of our children for whom poverty is destroying their childhood and stifling their future.”

The Right Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, also backed the campaign, saying: “It is a political, social and moral imperative that we act now to effect change for the good.

“The Church of Scotland stands alongside people of all faith traditions, and none, in the move towards fairness for all our children.”

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David Gauke signals he will press on with universal credit

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “David Gauke signals he will press on with universal credit” was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th August 2017 16.30 UTC

The work and pensions secretary has signalled that the government will press ahead with controversial welfare changes, insisting the system of universal credit is “making work pay and transforming lives”.

Responding to a letter signed by 30 Labour MPs and the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas, expressing concerns about UC and calling for its implementation to be paused, David Gauke underlined his commitment to the policy.

“Getting UC right is a priority for me,” he said. “UC is revolutionising the welfare system by making work pay and transforming lives. Those on UC are moving into work significantly faster and working longer than under the old system. Only through this balanced approach can we as a country provide effective and holistic support for families and individuals to enter the world of work while ensuring fairness for the taxpayer.”

The two-page letter – one of Gauke’s first actions since he was handed the work and pensions role in Theresa May’s post-election reshuffle – suggests there is little appetite in government for softening planned changes to the welfare system in the wake of the election campaign, which saw Labour focus on the impact of austerity.

However, he does acknowledge the concerns of claimants struggling to navigate the new system, saying: “I know change of any kind can be difficult, especially for families struggling to get by.”

He offers to meet Laura Pidcock, the lead signatory on the letter, and her colleagues when parliament returns from the summer recess next month to discuss their concerns.

The introduction of UC, which rolls six benefits into a single monthly payment, is due to be extended to about 50 new areas.

New UC claimants are set to receive significantly less than they would have done under the current system of tax credits, as a result of changes aimed at cutting £12bn a year off the welfare bill.

Gauke, who was previously a Treasury minister, has a reputation at Westminster as a safe pair of hands, even with complex policy challenges. George Osborne, his former boss, used to say he would “uncork the Gauke” when he needed extra political firepower.

In his reply to the opposition MPs, who were concerned that plans to switch over to UC in some areas in November and December would create hardship in the run-up to Christmas, Gauke claims long payment delays are rare.

“You mention that sometimes the initial payment can take longer than the intended five- to six-week period. While there are cases that can take longer than five to six weeks, this should be put into context. Our latest internal data suggests some 80% of cases were paid in full at the end of the first assessment period,” he says, adding that the other 20% are often those who have not yet signed up to their “claimant commitment” or provided all the necessary paperwork.

Gauke is the Conservatives’ fourth welfare secretary in less than two years. Iain Duncan Smith, who championed UC, resigned in 2016 after a row with Osborne over benefits cuts.

Labour did not promise to cancel all of the government’s welfare cuts during the election campaign, but some of the prime minister’s most awkward moments were when she was challenged publicly over the plight of the low-paid – including, for example, nurses forced to use food banks.

Pidcock, the MP for North West Durham since the June election, made waves at Westminster in the short time parliament sat before breaking for the summer, with a passionate maiden speech promising to fight for her constituents.

Other signatories to the letter included the shadow cabinet minister Kate Osamor, Stella Creasy, Alison McGovern, John Mann, Jon Cruddas and John Cryer.

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Tory welfare cuts cause ‘human catastrophe’ for disabled people

The Chair of an influential UN committee has said that the Tory Government’s welfare cuts have directly contributed to a “human catastrophe” for disabled people in the UK, following a detailed investigation into the UK’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Theresia Degener, who chairs the CRPD, said the UK Government has “totally neglected” the needs and rights of disabled people, in one of the most damning indictments of Tory austerity policies to date.

Ms Degener told the UK delegation: “Evidence before us now and in our inquiry procedure as published in our 2016 report reveals that social cut policies have led to a human catastrophe in your country, totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in.”

Related: Disabled people take their fight against Tory cuts to the United Nations

Her comments follow an earlier investigation last year, after which the UN accused the Tory government of “grave and systematic” violations of disabled people’s rights – a claim that was immediately dismissed by the then Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green as “patronising and offensive”.

Other flagship Tory policies have also faced strong condemnation, including the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. In January 2016, the Court of Appeal ruled the policy discriminates against disabled children, as well as victims of domestic abuse.

The Government’s main back to work scheme, otherwise known as “workfare”, the benefit cap, and the draconian sanctions regime have also all been declared unlawful at various times over the past few years.

Campaigners storm parliament in protest against government disability policies.

SNP MSP Gail Ross, who sits on Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee, said: “This criticism from the United Nations of the UK Government’s welfare cuts shows yet again just how damaging Tory policies have been for vulnerable and disabled people across the UK.

“Every politician across the country has had to listen to heart-breaking stories about the impact that callous Tory cuts are causing to people and our communities – yet they have refused to act but instead continue to punish people in the cruellest manner.

“The UN’s criticism should act as a wake-up call – but sadly we have been here before and the Tories simply do not listen. The UN could not be clearer – UK ministers’ record on welfare has caused a ‘human catastrophe’ as they ‘totally neglect’ the vulnerable situation of people with disabilities.

“The Tories must urgently rethink their disastrous welfare cuts, which have driven people into poverty, caused an exponential rise in the use of foodbanks, and has now been condemned, yet again, by the United Nations.

“If they are not prepared to change course, then they must give the Scottish Government the full powers to make different choices and allow us to support rather than neglect the most vulnerable people in our society.”

A government spokesperson said: “The UK is a recognised world leader in disability rights and equality, which is why we supported the development of the UN convention.

“Almost 600,000 disabled people have moved into work over the last four years and we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions, more than ever before.

“This first periodic review will help build on our progress to empower disabled people in all aspects of their lives.”

Jeremy Corbyn calls for halt to job centre closures at rally in Scotland

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Jeremy Corbyn calls for halt to job centre closures at rally in Scotland” was written by Severin Carrell Scotland editor, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th August 2017 16.11 UTC

Jeremy Corbyn has called on ministers to halt the closure of job centres and social security offices as he continued a five-day tour of key constituencies in Scotland.

The Labour leader addressed a rally in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, where the Department of Work and Pensions is closing an administration office and relocating 250 jobs as part of a UK-wide cost-cutting and restructuring programme.

Speaking to about 250 union activists and supporters outside the Quadrant shopping centre, where a large proportion of stores are shuttered and vacant, Corbyn said the DWP closure would damage the small town’s economy.

“I’m saying to the government: halt this closure programme, halt the closure of this centre here, don’t destroy the 600 jobs that are available here that are important as an economic contributor to this town,” Corbyn said. “Instead think again. Think about the role of government in supporting people. Think again about the punitive way in which you operate your regimes.”

He repeated Labour’s pledge to lift the cash freeze imposed on most benefits, which normally rise each year in line with inflation – though party sources stressed they would not be able to meet the full cost of cancelling it immediately. Labour believes part of the cost could eventually come from the increased tax contributions by workers paid the party’s proposed £10 an hour minimum wage.

The Conservatives hit back by issuing a statement accusing Corbyn of making promises he could not afford to deliver. “Labour spent their whole election campaign promising the country things they simply couldn’t afford and they’re doing the same thing again,” it said. “Ending this freeze would cost a massive £12.9bn and leave ordinary, hardworking people footing the bill.”

The rally was organised by the PCS, the public sector union that is not affiliated with Labour but supports Corbyn’s leadership.

Gillian Jones, the PCS branch secretary, said its survey of the DWP staff being relocated had found they spent thousands of pounds each week in local shops. “The loss to this community of these jobs is going to have a huge impact,” she said. “We work here, we shop here, we socialise here. We’re very much part of this community and that’s very much the way we want to keep it.”

Corbyn is visiting 18 Scottish constituencies on a five-day tour that Labour hopes will bolster the party’s unexpected victories in seven Scottish constituencies in June’s snap election in case a second election is called.

Labour gained ground after 10 years of decline that culminated in the humiliating loss of 40 of its 41 Westminster seats to the Scottish National party at the 2015 election. Corbyn’s advisers say they underestimated the scale of his appeal in Scotland and the SNP’s vulnerability.

Members of the public gather to listen to the Labour leader Corbyn in Coatbridge.
Members of the public gather to listen to the Labour leader Corbyn in Coatbridge. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Corbyn travelled to the Western Isles, which Labour believes it could regain from the SNP. He visited seats in Glasgow on Thursday, taking in a rally with younger supporters at a brewery, followed by a filled-to-capacity speech at Glasgow central mosque.

Corbyn told activists in Glasgow “a Labour government would not be afraid to pick up the phone to President Donald Trump and say quite simply ‘you are wrong on the Paris climate change agreement. And we would also be quite open in saying ‘When the Ku Klux Klan and the fascists arrive in Charlottesville, the whole world should condemn them’.” His tour ends in Edinburgh on Sunday, with an event at the fringe festival.

The seat of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill was won back by Labour in June after it was seized by the SNP in 2015. Its new MP, Hugh Gaffney, a trade union activist and former postman, wore his old ParcelForce shirt in his maiden speech at Westminster where he called for the Royal Mail to be renationalised.

Corbyn said the UK government needed to abandon its “often punitive sanctions regime” against those claiming benefits and should overhaul the universal credit system.

“Invest in the future of all us. Invest in better transport systems; invest in sustainable jobs in new industries; invest in communities; invest in decent housing. You then create the virtuous circle of increasing employment in all those industries and providing a common good for all,” he said.

“You don’t cut your way to prosperity: you improve people’s lives by investing in the future. If money was found to bail out the banks then surely the money should be available to support and invest in communities all across the country.

“[If] you cut and destroy public services, they are not there for anybody later on in life. Even the very richest get heart attacks; even the very richest may get cancer; even the very richest homes might catch fire. At that point they need an ambulance service. At that point they need a hospital. At that point they need a fire service. I simply say to the Tory party, think again about the direction you’re taking the country in.”

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Benefit cap blamed for 85% cut in new homes for vulnerable people

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Benefit cap blamed for 85% cut in new homes for vulnerable people” was written by Jessica Elgot, for The Guardian on Thursday 24th August 2017 23.01 UTC

Housing associations have cut plans to build homes for vulnerable, elderly or disabled residents by 85% because of concerns over proposed welfare changes, according to an investigation.

A survey of 69 housing associations representing a third of sheltered housing in England found dozens of schemes for new housing either postponed, cancelled or facing closure, a drop from 8,800 to just 1,350 homes.

Housing schemes facing closure or postponement include homes for war veterans adjusting back to civilian life and supported living for people with learning disabilities to help them live independently. The changes could also apply to secure housing for domestic violence victims.

The National Housing Federation (NHF), which conducted the survey, said schemes were threatened by uncertainty over planned changes affecting housing benefit for supported accommodation.

Around two-thirds of housing associations contacted said they had decreased their development plans. Almost four in 10 said they had postponed new developments, one in 10 had cancelled new developments, and 7% planned to close existing schemes between now and 2019.

Riverside, a scheme for homeless veterans in Colchester is among those currently stalled. The association’s executive director of care and support, John Glenton, who gave evidence to parliament on the proposed changes, said the uncertainty over the future of the funding had led to the scheme’s postponement.

“While this uncertainty over funding continues, a question mark hangs over development plans which would support some of society’s most vulnerable people,” he said. “Along with other landlords, we urge the government to resolve this quickly.”

The government has proposed capping benefits for those living in supported and sheltered housing to match the housing benefit tenants receive if they rent from a private landlord.

Critics say the rates, known as local housing allowance, would create a “postcode lottery” and have no relationship to the cost of proving specialist housing support. Additional costs are supposed to be met by local councils but providers have said the details for this provision have so far been vague.

Last May, a joint parliamentary committee called on the government to scrap the plan, warning the proposed changes “could lead to a serious shortfall in the availability of supported housing”. A green paper, expected to detail the proposals, was due before the summer but has now been postponed until the end of autumn.

Of the 69 housing associations surveyed, the report found:

  • 71 new schemes, representing 2,185 homes, had been postponed.
  • 19 new developments, totalling 803 homes, had been cancelled.
  • 22 existing supported schemes and three sheltered schemes, amounting to 132 homes, were facing closure.

The chief executive of the NHF, David Orr, said the planned changes to funding were directly preventing the building of homes for the most vulnerable and that the government had “failed to heed warnings”.

“With social care in crisis, the role supported housing plays in alleviating pressures on the NHS is ever more important,” he said. “These changes have not even come in yet and they have taken 7,000 homes for vulnerable people out of the pipeline.

“The proposed changes in funding bear no relation to the real cost of providing this type of housing. It is time government put supported housing on a secure and sustainable footing.”

Labour’s John Healey, the shadow housing minister, called on the government to scrap the changes. “This is a damaging and short-sighted policy proposal which ministers have already been forced to delay and then amend under pressure from Labour and housing organisations,” he said.

“Before the damage gets any worse, ministers must halt these crude cuts and work with the housing sector to produce a new plan to put supported housing on a sustainable footing.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the department valued the role of supported and sheltered accommodation. “We have consulted fully on the new model and have been clear we will set out the next steps soon so that the supported housing sector has the certainty it needs to deliver in the future,” the spokesman said.

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