The Peopleâ€™s Proposal Realising the Right to Social Security Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group
1. Focus on Jobseekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance 6
Focus on ATOS
2. Sanctions and Benefit Denials
Case Study 1: JSA Sanctions leading to homelessness
Case Study 2: ESA - Woman going through appeals
3. Who makes the decision?
Case Study 3: Sanctions during Steps 2 Success programme
Spotlight on Steps to Success Contractors
4. Monitoring Results
5. The Peopleâ€™s Proposal
Introduction Who we are The Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) Group have been active since the summer of 2012, when a group of experienced PPR activists began organising with people who were out of work and on benefits at the Social Security office in Corporation Street, Belfast. Against the backdrop of rising unemployment and the most radical reshaping of our welfare system in its history, the R2W group identified social security sanctions and job creation among the most pressing human rights issues with regard to the right to work and the right to welfare. Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation is a human rights organisation which supports groups like R2W to use human rights to challenge and change current government decision making practices which exclude them, and which lead to poor service delivery, entrenched inequalities and ineffective use of public money. In 2014 the R2W group successfully campaigned for the adoption by Belfast City Council of REAL JOBS NOW, requiring that council use social clauses which ring-fence ‘real jobs’ (rather than back to work schemes) for the longterm unemployed in it’s procurement contracts. Over 2000 people from across Belfast, including over 50 community and voluntary organisations supported the campaign calling on Council to pass and implement REAL JOBS NOW. The campaign also received support from the (now former) United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Ms Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona who commented: “The important work being done by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group in Belfast, Northern Ireland to hold the government accountable ... is crucial and should be praised as a promising practice to be followed.”1
To view the full message of support, please see http://pprproject.org/sites/default/files/ Message%20of%20Support%20for%20Right%20to%20Work_M_Sepulveda%2015%20July %202013.pdf www.pprproject.org 3
How are unemployment and social security issues relevant to human rights? The R2W Group use a human rights based approach to campaign for change. Their work is specifically focussed on the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; specifically Article 6 and 9 which relate to work and social security respectively. The key issues that have arisen from the action research and monitoring work carried out by R2W at Social Security offices across Belfast have aligned closely with the core human rights standards articulated by the United Nations Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) in their General Comments No. 18 (Work) and No. 19 (Social Security). These issues are: Long term unemployment: People who are fit and able to work but are out of work for over one year are defined as Long Term Unemployed under the definition of the International Labour Organisation. As studies show that the longer you are without a job, the harder it is to re-enter employment, this group can be considered as among the furthest from the labour market, and therefore requiring innovative efforts to enable them to access jobs. Under international human rights law, the principal obligation of state parties to ICESCR is to ensure the progressive realisation of the right to work. UNCESCR has underlined the urgency in tackling unemployment by stating that “state parties must therefore adopt as quickly as possible measures aimed at achieving full employment”. (General Comment 18 paragraph 19). Government ‘Back to Work’ schemes: in Northern Ireland people who are fit to work and have been unemployed for a specified period of time, must, as a condition of their entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance, participate in a government funded ‘back to work’ scheme. The main back to work scheme in Northern Ireland is currently called ‘Steps to Success’. Under international human rights law, steps taken by the government to realise full employment must not only include “technical and vocational guidance and training programmes” but these must also safeguard the “fundamental political and economic freedoms of the individual” and they must be effective. (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 6 (2)). Interference with social security payments because of sanctions and/or changes to social security entitlement: Social security entitlement is a right which is protected under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to social security has been described as “of central importance in guaranteeing human dignity for all persons when they are faced with circumstances that deprive them of their www.pprproject.org
capacity to fully realise their Covenant rights”. (General Comment 19 paragraph 1). For this reason, the Committee has been very clear that “the withdrawal, reduction or suspension of benefits should be circumscribed, based on grounds that are reasonable, subject to due process and provided for in national law.” (General Comment 19 paragraph 24). A key component of the protection afforded under human rights law is the right to an effective remedy when something goes wrong. Critical in this is access to appropriate information about how to access the appeals system. The Committee have underlined this by stating; “Before any action is carried out by the State party, or by any other third party, that interferes with the right of an individual to social security the relevant authorities must ensure that such actions are performed in a manner warranted by law, compatible with the Covenant, and include: (a) an opportunity for genuine consultation with those affected; (b) timely and full disclosure of information on the proposed measures; (c) reasonable notice of proposed actions;(d) legal recourse and remedies for those affected; and (e) legal assistance for obtaining legal remedies. Where such action is based on the ability of a person to contribute to a social security scheme, their capacity to pay must be taken into account. Under no circumstances should an individual be deprived of a benefit on discriminatory grounds or of the minimum essential level of benefits as defined in paragraph 59(a)” (General Comment 19 paragraph 78).
1. Focus on Jobseekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance Whilst R2W have been collecting evidence about human rights failings on all of these issues, the main focus of this research relates to interference with social security payments either through sanctions or changes to social security entitlement. The R2W group’s research focuses on Job Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance. These are the benefits that were most relevant to the people surveyed at Social Security Offices. In 2014-15 almost 300 people were surveyed. Information received under Freedom of Information legislation in October 2015 showed that in the period October 2014-October 2015, social security payments to people in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance were stopped 21, 386 times. 2 The overwhelming evidence collected by the R2W Group from unemployed people across Belfast indicates that, despite the full effect of Welfare Reform having yet to be realised in Northern Ireland, over the monitoring period, people increasingly encountering problems accessing their social security payments. In October 2015, the R2W Group presented preliminary results from this monitoring at a Belfast Food Network event on the impact of food poverty entitled ‘Enough is Enough’. Their monitoring further confirmed the devastating impact of social security entitlement changes on people’s lives, with people going without heating, without food and having to borrow money from friends and family. 1.1
What are sanctions?
Sanctions are used as a punitive measure against social security claimants who do not meet the conditions of the benefit they are claiming. Sanctions have traditionally been associated with jobseekers who are found by a decision maker not to meet the requirements of their benefit. However changes to Social Security entitlement with the resulting impact of a reduction or cessation in payments, happen across a range of benefits. The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has noted that in Great
Freedom of Information response received from the Department for Social Development, dated 20th October 2015 www.pprproject.org 2
Britain sanctions were being applied to many individuals with long term health conditions and disabilities. Indeed, claimants of Employment Support Allowance placed in the Work Related Activity group are also subject to sanctions if they do not attend work focused interviews as requested. In addition entitlement to certain benefits are dependent upon entitlement to others so as highlighted both in the R2W research and the Advice NI report ‘Benefit Sanctions in Northern Ireland’ (October 2015) loss of, for example, Jobseekers Allowance can lead to a suspension of Housing Benefit, leaving an individual at risk of losing their home. While sanctions have always been part of the social security system in the United Kingdom, more recently, the increasingly arbitrary and stringent approach to them has been widely criticised including by academics at Oxford University following a cross area analysis of the UK. This study, led by Professor David Stuckler, identifies that whilst the use of sanctions has led to a decline in the numbers of people accessing social security payment, it has not resulted in more people returning to employment.3 As the Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group Report (Jan 2016) or ‘Evason report’ states, the sanctions regime to be imposed under the Welfare Reform legislation has the potential to have even harsher impact, with benefits to be withdrawn for longer timescales, up to eighteen months. 1.2
What is Jobseekers Allowance?
Jobseekers Allowance is the main benefit for people of working age who are out of work or work less than 16 hours a week on average. If you're eligible, it is paid while you're looking for work. To get Jobseeker's Allowance you must be: available for, capable of and actively seeking work; aged 18 or over but below State Pension age; working less than 16 hours per week on average, depending on the amount of your wage; not be in certain types of education; not be receiving certain other benefits; resident in Northern Ireland. According to the DSD’s Benefits Statistics Summary Publication, in November 2015 there were 38,010 Jobseekers Allowance claimants in Northern Ireland - a decrease of 10,380 in the last year.
(2015) ‘Do punitive approaches to unemployment benefit recipients increase welfare exit and employment? A cross-area analysis of UK sanctioning reforms’ Working Paper produced by Rachel Loopstra, Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee and David Stuckler, University of Oxford. www.pprproject.org 7 3
For a single person aged 25 or over Jobseekers Allowance amounts to £73.10 per week. Participating in Steps to Success – the Department for Employment and Learning’s ‘back to work’ scheme – is compulsory for those who have been on JobSeekers Allowance for a certain period of time. 1.3
What is Steps 2 Success?
“Steps 2 Success is an employment programme to help you build the skills and experience you need to find and keep a job. The programme provides a personalised service and is tailored to meet your needs to help you into work.” NI Direct Steps 2 Success is the Department for Employment and Learning’s ‘back to work’ scheme, replacing the Steps 2 Work programme as of October 2014. Participating in Steps 2 Success is compulsory if you are unemployed and on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) for nine months if aged 18 to 24 or 12 months if aged 25 or over. Non participation or failure to meet the conditions of the Steps 2 Success programme can result in sanctions. As is the case across the UK, private contractors, and not the public sector deliver the Steps 2 Success programme. According to DELNI, contracts for the delivery of the Steps 2 Success programme were awarded to three lead contractors: Ingeus UK Limited, People Plus (NI), (formerly EOS (Trading) Northern Ireland Ltd), and Reed in Partnership. This has implications for realising the right to social security as private companies are generally accepted not to be responsible for the discharge of human rights obligations. However, businesses performing a public function in the United Kingdom have duties under the Human Rights Act. Additionally, it has been widely reported that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities is carrying out an investigation – the first of its kind – into violations of the rights of disabled people in relation to welfare cuts. The processes under consideration by the Committee include the Work Capability Assessment, which in Northern Ireland is carried out by ATOS.
What is Employment Support Allowance?
“Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is about focusing on what a person can do, rather than what they can’t.” DSD Website Employment Support Allowance (ESA) is the main benefit for those who are unable to work because of illness or disability. According to NI Direct, it provides personalised support to those who are able to work including access to a “specially trained Employment Service Adviser and a wide range of further services including employment, training and condition management support. This is to help you manage and cope with your illness or disability at work.” The DSD Benefits Statistics Summary Bulletin indicates that as of November 2015, the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants was 119,450 and the number of Employment and Support Allowance recipients was 114,370. This represents an increase in claimants of 5,650 on a year earlier. Those in receipt of ESA receive between £102.15 and £109.30 per week. The Employment and Support Allowance is conditional upon an increasingly notorious medical assessment called the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
Focus on ATOS In March 2014, the company ATOS Healthcare, ended its reported £100 million contract with the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions, following continuous public reports of the disastrous impacts the company’s implementation of Work Capability Assessments was having on people with disabilities across the UK. A report from the Department cited ‘significant quality failures’ in their work. In August 2011, the same company was awarded a contract by the Department for Social Development to provide support services for benefits processing. The contract is a business process outsourcing deal for the delivery of medical services, supporting administration, and the implementation of IT systems to support the operation. In March 2014, when the contracts for the rest of the UK were terminated, a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Social Development, who confirmed that ATOS Healthcare’s contract continues and runs until June 2018. ATOS also currently carries out the DLA assessments in Northern Ireland. Options exist for the contract to be extended for a further three years. The contract is valued at £82.2 million.
2. Sanctions and Benefit Denials 2.1 Sanctions under JSA The Jobseekers (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 (Article 21) sets out the circumstances in which JSA is not payable, specifically: “(5) The claimant (a) has, without good cause, refused or failed to carry out any jobseeker’s direction which was reasonable, having regard to his circumstances, (b) has, without good cause— (i) neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of a place on a training scheme or employment programme; (ii) after a place on such a scheme or programme has been notified to him by an employment officer as vacant or about to become vacant, refused or failed to apply for it or to accept it when offered to him; (iii) given up a place on such a scheme or programme; or (iv) failed to attend such a scheme or programme on which he has been given a place; or (c) has lost his place on such a scheme or programme through misconduct. (6) The claimant (a) has lost his employment as an employed earner through misconduct; (b) has voluntarily left such employment without just cause; (c) has, without good cause, after a situation in any employment has been notified to him by an employment officer as vacant or about to become vacant, refused or failed to apply for it or to accept it when offered to him; or (d) has, without good cause, neglected to avail himself of a reasonable opportunity of employment.“ According to an Assembly Question response, there were 24,555 JSA sanctions imposed between the 1st April 2012 and 31st January 2015. R2W and PPR submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Social Development in September 2015 and received information that between October 2014 and October 2015 the total number of JSA sanctions was 6,273. There has been a reduction in the number of offices from which sanctions are recorded; previously this was collected by Social Security Office, but is now www.pprproject.org
gathered by region – Belfast, North and South. This aligns with the Steps 2 Success contracts which are delivered on this basis. Effectively it went from a breakdown by 35 SSO offices to a breakdown of 8 offices plus Royston House within the three regions. There has been a reduction and amendments to the recorded reasons for which a person on JSA can be sanctioned from 24 reasons to 8 reasons plus ‘other’ category. A drop in the number of reasons for sanctioning has not led to a drop in the number of sanctions. In the 8 month period between 1st October 2014- 31st May 2015 under the ‘old’ system which used 24 reasons, 2886 people on JSA were sanctioned (monthly average 361). In the 4 month period between 1st June 2015- 30th September 2015, under the ‘new system’ which uses 8 (+ ‘other’) reasons, 3387 people on JSA were sanctioned (monthly average 847). Table 2.1 Recorded Reasons for Sanctions Recorded reasons (24) for JSA sanctions for period 1st October 2014 until 31st May 2015 Doubt on actively seeking work
Recorded reasons (8 + ‘other’) for JSA sanctions for period 1st June 15- 30th September 2015
Offer of employment was refused Doubt on availability Employment terminated due to misconduct Evidence of neglect to avail of training scheme/employment programme Fail to accept a Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place Fail to apply for a Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place Fail to attend a Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place Fail to attend a training scheme/ employment programme Fail to attend a Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success interview Evidence training scheme/employment programme not completed Fail to take advantage of a Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place Fortnightly jobsearch review not attended
Lost job through misconduct
Failed to Start or complete Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success. Good cause not accepted
Failed to Attend Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success Interview
Fail to sign declaration
Failed to Attend/Failed to Sign
Jobseeker direction not complied with
Failed to comply with JSA Direction
Non-attendance at a Work focused interview www.pprproject.org
Place on training scheme/employment programme lost due to misconduct Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place left voluntarily Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place lost through misconduct Voluntary unemployment Non-participation at a work focused interview Refusal or failure to apply/accept employment Refusal to apply for a Steps to Work or Steps 2 Success place Requested interview not attended
Leaving Work Voluntarily Refused to apply for a job
One Strike/Two Strike Fraud sanction Other
Case Study 1: Jobseekers Allowance sanctions leading to homelessness My name is X. I am 22 year old man. I worked as a labourer until I was laid off. I then went on Jobseekers Allowance and was paid £72 a week. I also got housing benefit to help pay my rent. After being on Jobseekers for a while I was sent to Ingeus. On Thursday 20th August my money was stopped. I only found out when I went to the bank machine. It wasn’t until I went to Corporation Street on the 27th of August - at my usual sign on time - that I was told my money would be stopped for 6 months for not attending appointments with an Ingeus advisor on the 23rd July and the 27th August! I told the woman who was signing me on that I didn’t know anything about the appointments and that one of them was today – the same day as my sign on day. She told me that letters were sent out to me. I told her that I didn’t receive any of the letters. All letters go to my landlord and he gives me everything. I told her that I know what happens when you don’t do what you’re meant to for Ingeus and I definitely wouldn’t miss an appointment that I knew about. I told her that I had no other money or way of getting money. I told her that a mistake had obviously been made and that my Ingeus Personal Advisor had cancelled loads of appointments with me during the months I’d been going to Ingeus. I told her that my Personal Advisor had also promised me he would get me a labouring job as part of some scheme weeks ago. I never heard anything back about that either. The woman at the Bru was nice but just told me she had no decision making power and that decisions were made at a place called Royston House. I asked for a crisis loan and I was told ‘No’. I wasn’t entitled to one because I had been sanctioned.
I was told that my only option was to fill in a hardship form and that I would have all of my money stopped for 6 months ‘commencing immediately’. She told me that I would still have to attend Ingeus meetings and sign on during the 6 months if I wanted to be able to get money again. I took the hardship form, filled it in and brought it back the next day on the 28th August. My application was knocked back. After the meeting I went to Royston House to ask to meet the decision maker to sort it out. I was informed by the security guard at Royston House that no one was allowed to make an appointment with the decision makers. Overnight my money was reduced from £115 a fortnight to nothing. The Housing Executive then stopped my housing benefit because the Bru stopped my Jobseekers. I went into arrears and lost the flat and had to move back in with my Ma who has enough on her plate. I explained all this at the time to the woman at the Bru and the guy at Royston House. They both just said there is nothing else they could do.
Benefits Denials under ESA
The Employment Support Allowance Regulations (NI) 2008 set out the assessment process, the process for determining capability for work or work related activity, and amounts payable. The DSD Guide to ESA and WCA (ESA214) provides detailed information about the Work Capability Assessment. To claim ESA requires filling in a claim form (56 pages) and return it with all supporting material and a medical certificate from GP. Alternatively it can be done over the phone and the filled in form sent to the applicant. The applicant must get a medical certificate from GP and supporting material and send it back. On the basis of this, an applicant is informed that they are entitled or not entitled to claim, and ESA payments at the basic rate of £73.10 for an individual over 25 years of age. The first 13 weeks on ESA are the ‘assessment phase’. The assessment phase determines ESA rate a person receives from Week 14 and whether they are placed into the Work Related Activity Group (receiving up to £102.15)4 or the Support Group (receiving up to £109.30). If you are placed in the Work Related Activity Group, you will be expected to take part in Work-Focused Interviews with your Employment Service Adviser. You will get support to help you prepare for suitable work. If you are placed in the Support Group because your illness or disability has a severe effect on your ability to work, you will not be expected to take part in any work. You can do so on a voluntary basis if you want to. At around week 4, the person is sent a Capability for Work Questionnaire (ESA50) (20 pages). The Capability for Work questionnaire is a tick box form and tests how the applicant’s physical or mental illness/disability prevents you from carrying out a series of activities or functions. Each activity has a certain points value and you need to score at least 15 points from any combination of descriptors to have limited capability for work. This form needs to be completed and returned within one month. If it is not received they are treated as being capable for work and their entitlement to ESA stops. Most people are then referred for a face to face medical assessment; a Work Capability Assessment.
The Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015-6, which is yet to receive royal assent will reduce this to £73.10, for new applicants to ESA in the WRAG group. www.pprproject.org 16 4
If an applicant doesn’t attend the medical assessment as required then entitlement to ESA may be stopped. The Work Capability Assessment is carried out by an ‘Approved Healthcare Professional’ defined by the DSD Guide (ESA 124, February 2013) as “a healthcare professional (registered doctor, nurse or physiotherapist), who has been approved by the Department for Social Development’s Chief Medical Adviser”. This person is employed by the private contractor ATOS. A number of groups are not required to go through a medical assessment, mainly people who have less than six months to live, or who are undergoing cancer treatment. The DSD Guide states that; “an assessment does not always mean that the approved healthcare professional will undertake a physical examination. They may just want to talk to the customer about how their health condition or disability affects their everyday activities. The customer will have an opportunity to give any other information relevant to their assessment.” According to information received under Freedom of Information legislation, between June 2014 - May 2015, 9, 530 ESA claimants had their benefits removed following a Work Capability Assessment interview. The FOI response does not provide information on how many ESA claimants were sent a Work Capability Assessment form or asked to come to a Work Capability Assessment interview. This information is not collected but the number of forms issued and interviews scheduled is. It should be noted that one claimant could receive more than one form or be asked to attend more than one interview in a one year period. In a one year period (October 2014- September 2015) 77,694 WCA forms were issued and 36,685 interviews were scheduled. There are no records held relating to how many of those whose benefit was removed following a WCA appealed the decision. However, the DSD were able to disclose that in a one year period (October 2014- September 2015) 6,102 appeals were lodged by people who had been on ESA. We can cautiously estimate based on these figures that around one quarter (26%) of the people asked to attend a WCA interview (36,685), lose their benefit as a result (9,530).
Moving from ESA to JSA
According to a Freedom of Information request received on the 5th November 2015, in one year (June 14- May 15) 1,150 people who were removed from ESA because of a WCA went on to claim JSA. Â Evidence from R2W indicates that the financial gap faced by an applicant embarking on an appeal process discourages people from challenging the decision, and leads them to apply for JSA although they may not be fit for work.
Case Study 2: ESA - Woman going through appeals My name is M. I suffer from depression, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, allergies and skin conditions. I am prescribed very strong medications to help me deal with these conditions. I was committed to psychiatric care in the Mater Hospital before. Since I was released I have been working closely with my GP on coping mechanisms but sometimes I don’t get out of bed for days. I take anti depressants like Tamazepam and Citalapram which dull my senses and make me forget things. I couldn’t hold down a job at the minute. I couldn’t cope with filling in the applications forms and attending interviews and would never be able to keep the routines. My money was stopped after an assessment in July and I have been appealing it ever since. The Employment and Support Allowance’s work capability assessment and the appeals process I’m going through have made me much worse. The assessor and the person who reviewed the assessment when I first appealed decided I was fit to work. They decided this because I told them that on my good days I can walk places and talk to members of the public or answer my door and cook for myself. The assessors didn’t mention my condition, my symptoms or the impacts these have on everyday life. They aren’t qualified to understand mental health issues. My doctor wasn’t even talked to when they were assessing me. A doctor who I haven’t seen in years filled in a questionnaire because he was told to by them. My assessor was a nice man on the day. He asked me things like do you socialise much. I told him that at least once a month good friends of mine come and get me out and the last time I went to a play. He used that to say I was fit for work. I never seen the notes until after my money was stopped and I appealed.
Since the first time I was sent a letter about the Work Capability Assessment in January I have now got 150 pages of letters from them. You can’t understand any of it without the help of a professional. One time I got a letter telling me the decision was taken on the same day of the interview I attended. I don’t know how they had the time to consider years of medical evidence. I never had any help to appeal the first time. They just asked me do I want reconsideration and I said, yes! I’m waiting on my tribunal now and my money has been reduced from £170 to £134. I have to give them a sick line every week now. I usually buy creams my doctor can’t prescribe for my skin conditions but I can’t afford them any more so I’m getting worse. The ones at Shaftesbury Square said I may as well just go on Jobseekers instead of Employment Support Allowance. I still haven’t been given a date for appeal.
3. Who makes the decision? While the administration of Steps to Success, sanctions and Work Capability Assessments are contracted out to private entities, the final decision on whether to remove an individual’s social security is officially made by ‘decision-makers’ in the Social Security Agency, a public body which comes under the remit of the Department for Social Development. 3.1
According to Advice NI’s report ‘Benefit sanctions in Northern Ireland’, the process to sanction a claimant on Jobseekers Allowance and under Steps to Success is as follows:
“Where a claimant fails, without good cause, to carry out an activity within the S2S employment programme the Lead Contractor delivering the S2S programme must make a referral (using the ‘S2S 9’ form) to the Employment Service Adviser in DEL including details of the activity, the date and time it was due to take place. The Employment Service Adviser will forward a copy of the S2S 9 to Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) decision makers within the Social Security Agency who will notify the claimant on form S2S 37 (Fail to Participate) to give their reasons for non-attendance on the S2S programme by attending the J&BO/ Job Centre or contacting their Employment Service Adviser by telephone within 5 working days. When the claimant contacts the J&BO/Job Centre, the Employment Service Adviser should take a statement from them on form S2S4 FP (Steps 2 Success Statement Form: Non-Participation on Steps 2 Success) detailing their reasons for failing to participate in Steps 2 Success. The Employment Service Adviser should then complete a JS 567 form (Decision Referral Form) forward this to the JSA Decision Maker immediately, who will consider the facts of the case and any potential sanction. In circumstances where the claimant fails to contact the J&BO/Job Centre within 5 working days to give their reasons for non- participation, the Employment Service Adviser will inform the JSA Decision Maker by completing form S2S4 (Fail to Participate). www.pprproject.org
Where a referral for potential sanction has been made the JSA Decision Maker will take into account all of the circumstances and evidence presented and will determine whether or not there was good reason for failing to participate.” 3.2
Employment Support Allowance
The decision on applicant’s entitlement to ESA and rate of payment is also made by a ‘Social Security Agency decision maker’. The DSD Guide states:
“As with other social security benefits, the decision on entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance will be taken by a decision maker, who will consider carefully all the evidence. This will include the completed customer questionnaire, the information provided by their doctor and the advice of the approved healthcare professional.” DSD Guide stresses that the person’s own GP will be required to submit information regarding their fitness to work, but these are in the form of standard questionnaires developed by the Department for Work and Pensions, and may not capture the GPs assessment of the patients fitness to work. The DSD Guide also states: “The Work Capability Assessment will continue to be applied at regular intervals during the life of a claim to ensure the conditions for entitlement are maintained. The timing of further assessments is determined by the Social Security Agency decision maker. To assist the decision maker, the approved healthcare professional includes advice on the medical report about when it is likely the customer will be able to return to work. However, the assessment can be applied sooner if the decision maker considers there has been a significant change in the customer’s health condition or disability.”
Spotlight on Steps to Success Contractors Different contractors have responsibility for the delivery of Steps to Success in each area. Ingeus UK Limited (Belfast Region), People Plus NI formerly EOS (Trading) Northern Ireland Ltd (Northern Region), Reed in Partnership (Southern Region). Each of the lead contractors is supported in the delivery of S2S by the following organisations: Ingeus UK Limited (Belfast Region): Springvale Employment and Learning, People 1st and Armstrong NI. People Plus NI, formerly EOS (Trading) Northern Ireland Ltd (Northern Region): Elle Enterprise, Network Personnel, CTS, Roe Valley Community Forum, Roe Valley Enterprise, North City Business and USEL Reed in Partnership (Southern Region): Network Personnel, South Eastern Regional College (SERC), Global Education Ltd (GEL) and Rutledge Recruitment and Training. According to a Freedom of Information response issued by DEL (dated 17th February 2015) and published in DEL’s Disclosure Log, between 20th October 2014 (date S2S became operational) and 17th February 2015 (date FOI answered), DEL paid S2S contractors £3,651,650.72. When asked over the same period, how many people from the S2S programme were now in full time employment, DEL said they didn’t hold that information. Contractors are paid by the results achieved. For example: •
A lead contractor is paid an attachment fee (ranging from £550 to £850 depending on your age and social security entitlement) once a Steps to Success participant has been on the programme for 10 days and completed the required activity. Those in receipt of ESA (Employment Support Allowance) in the Work Related Activity Group taking part in the programme bring a payment to the contractor of £1,000 or £825 for those on ESA voluntary. These payments are for the first year.
• • •
For years 2-4 the attachment fee paid is reduced by £100-200 each year for each group. A job entry fee is payable to the contractor when a participant get a job ranging from £175 - £350. Further fees are payable to the Contractor when a person keeps that job of a 3 month sustained employment fee of £1150 - £1250, a 6 month sustained employment fee of £550 -£1100, 9 month fee of £500 - £850, and a 12 month sustained employment fee of £550850.
On a conservative estimate therefore, an applicant on Steps to Success who obtains a job within the first year and remains in it for 3 months would attract £2325 of public money for the contractor. An applicant on ESA (Work Related Activity Group) who did not get a job over 4 years of participation on Steps to Success would still bring in around £2,800 for the contractor. 3.3
How effective are government back to work schemes?
DEL’s Steps to Success Statistical Bulletin (published February 2016) reports that 23% of people in Northern Ireland got a job after participating on a Steps to Success programme. The Bulletin does not include information as to the length of time a job was retained. When PPR and the R2W monitored this issue in March 2013, March 2014, Summer 2014 and Summer 2015, our surveys found that between 3 -5% of people surveyed had got a job on a government back to work scheme. This question was asked partly as a result of data published in The Guardian newspaper which indicated that in Great Britain, none of the back to work scheme contractors had met the government target of 5.5% of unemployed obtaining and keeping a job for six months, in the 14 months up to July 2012. One of the schemes, in the North East of England was run by Ingeus and achieved a success rate of only 3.3%. Appeals for ESA 3.4 Sanctions and Crisis Loans The R2W survey show that 65% of people who were sanctioned applied for a crisis loan. The DSD published guidance in April 2015 on the Social Fund, which states that those who have been sanctioned are not generally eligible for a crisis loan. According to Directive 17 of the Social Fund Directive on Crisis Loans, people who have been sanctioned will only be eligible for a www.pprproject.org
crisis loan as a result of an emergency or disaster which the decision maker can see wasnâ€™t connected to the sanction.
Case Study 3: Sanctions during Steps to Success programme My name is B. I am long term unemployed and on Jobseekers allowance and Disability Allowance (DLA) for a heart condition. I am also severely dyslexic. I attended a special school to to receive support for specific educations needs. I struggle with figures, dates, times and all written material. Despite my conditions I receive numerous written letters on an annual basis from the Social Security Office and other agencies which I struggle to understand without support, which I cannot always access. No accommodations are made for my needs and I am further disadvantaged as a result. I receive ÂŁ180 fortnightly from the Social Security Office while I seek employment. During the time I have spent on JSA I have been referred to many different programs and schemes via the Social Security Office as a condition of my continued receipt of unemployment benefit. I have repeated processes such as CV writing many times. Most recently at a mandatory meeting in Ingeus in June 2015 I was told to fill in 5 application forms and send them to employers and an Ingeus email address for verification. Despite my difficulties reading and writing I was afforded no support. I struggled to do four application forms and sent them tot he email address provided under very stressful circumstances. Through the Princes Trust in Belfast I was told that I would be guaranteed an interview for TK Maxx. I was hopeful that participation in this scheme could result in a job for me as a friend of mine gained employment in Marks & Spencer through the scheme. I was however declined a place and I was told that I was ineligible as I was registered on the Steps to Success scheme. I was upset by this as I was denied a definite job opportunity because the Social Security Office had placed me on a programme which made no guarantee of an interview or a job. I was still keen to find a job. A close relative of mine died and the funeral was on the 22nd the same day as a scheduled â€˜Steps to Successâ€™ meeting I tried to contact the Social Security Office to explain and reschedule. I called www.pprproject.org
numerous times the day before and was transferred from the switchboard to the Holywood office many times, but was unable to speak to anyone. A few days after the funeral I received a letter saying that my benefit would be stopped if I did not contact the Social Security Agency. I did so and was advised it would be fine and my benefit would not be stopped so long as I informed my Adviser at the next sign on date which was the following Tuesday. I received my benefit that week in full. A few weeks later I received a letter saying that my benefit would be stopped for two weeks resulting in a deduction of £180 for not attending the Social Security Agency within the 5 day timeframe stipulated in the previous letter. Despite my dyslexia I filled in two appeal forms. They were unsuccessful. I tired to apply for a crisis loan but was informed by Social Security Agency staff that I had ‘no chance’ because I had already had one some months prior. I have spoke with many Social Security Agency representatives but each person said it is another persons responsibility. As a result of this decision I have had to skip meals and borrow money.
Monitoring Results The R2W group use a human rights based approach to campaign for change. Their work is specifically focussed on the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; specifically Article 6 and 9 which relate to work and social security respectively. The key issues that have arisen from the action research and monitoring work carried out by the group at Social Security Offices across Belfast have align closely with the core human rights standards articulated by the United Nations Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) in their General Comments No. 18 (Work) and No. 19 (Social Security). These issues include: • • • •
state sponsored ‘back to work’ schemes long term unemployment changes to benefits/sanctions due process and access to appeals
The most recent monitoring carried out by R2W took place in the summer of 2014 and 2015. All Social Security Agency office across Belfast were monitored. The results of the monitoring are outlined below. A total of 296 people were surveyed:
Male Female Undisclosed
AGE 80 60 40
Indicator 1: Government Back to Work Schemes Government ‘Back to Work’ schemes: in Northern Ireland people who are fit to work and have been unemployed for a specified period of time, must, as a condition of their entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance, participate in a government funded ‘back to work’ scheme. The main back to work scheme in Northern Ireland is called ‘Steps to Success’. Under international human rights law, steps taken by the government to realise full employment must not only include “technical and vocational guidance and training programmes” but these must also safeguard the “fundamental political and economic freedoms of the individual” and they must be effective. (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Article 6 (2)).
2014/15 Composite Results 4% of people who took part in a government back to work scheme got a job at the end of it INDICATOR #1 over time...
% of people who took part in a government back to work scheme and who got a job at the end of it 100
Indicator 2: Long Term Unemployment Long term unemployment: People who are fit and able to work but are out of work for over one year are defined as Long Term Unemployed under the definition of the International Labour Organisation. As studies show that the longer you are without a job, the harder it is to re-enter employment, this group can be considered as among the furthest from the labour market, and therefore requiring innovative efforts to enable them to access jobs.Under international human rights law, the principal obligation of state parties to ICESCR is to ensure the progressive realisation of the right to work. UNCESCR has underlined the urgency in tackling unemployment by stating that “state parties must therefore adopt as quickly as possible measures aimed at achieving full employment”. (General Comment 18 paragraph 19).
2014/15 Composite Results: 69% of people who were able to work haven’t had a job for over one year (long term unemployed) INDICATOR #2 over time...
% of people who are fit and able to work who haven't had a job in over one year 100 80
40 20 0
Indicator 3: Sanction/Benefit changes Interference with social security payments because of sanctions and/or changes to social security entitlement: Social security entitlement is a right which is protected under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to social security has been described as “of central importance in guaranteeing human dignity for all persons when they are faced with circumstances that deprive them of their capacity to fully realize their Covenant rights”. (General Comment 19 paragraph 1). For this reason, the Committee has been very clear that “the withdrawal, reduction or suspension of benefits should be circumscribed, based on grounds that are reasonable, subject to due process and provided for in national law.” (General Comment 19 paragraph 24).
2014/15 Composite Results: 58% of people had their social security entitlement stopped or reduced in the last six months because of a sanction or benefit change INDICATOR #3 over time...
% of people who had their social security entitlement stopped or reduced because of a sanction or benefit denial 100 80 60 40
-14 g u A
-15 g u A
Indicator 4: Sufficient Information to Appeal Due process: a key component of the protection afforded under human rights law is the right to an effective remedy when something goes wrong. Critical in this is access to appropriate information about what your rights to due process are and how to access the appeals system. The Committee have underlined this by stating; â€œBefore any action is carried out by the State party, or by any other third party, that interferes with the right of an individual to social security the relevant authorities must ensure that such actions are performed in a manner warranted by law, compatible with the Covenant, and include: (a) an opportunity for genuine consultation with those affected; (b) timely and full disclosure of information on the proposed measures; (c) reasonable notice of proposed actions;(d) legal recourse and remedies for those affected; and (e) legal assistance for obtaining legal remedies. Where such action is based on the ability of a person to contribute to a social security scheme, their capacity to pay must be taken into account. Under no circumstances should an individual be deprived of a benefit on discriminatory grounds or of the minimum essential level of benefits as defined in paragraph 59(a)â€? (General Comment 19 paragraph 78).
2014/15 Composite Results: 84% of people did not feel they were given sufficient information on their right to appeal INDICATOR #4 over time...
% of people who did not have enough information to appeal 90 68
45 23 0 -13 Mar www.pprproject.org
The People’s Proposal Safeguarding the Right to Due Process and Minimum Essential Level of Benefits In 2014/5, the R2W group has carried out human rights monitoring with almost 300 people on social security at Social Security offices across Belfast. Despite the full extent of Welfare Reform measures remaining to be realised in Northern Ireland, their work has revealed an increasing incidence of problems in accessing social security payments as a result of sanctions and benefit denials. The R2W group believe this is incompatible with the obligations of the NI Executive under international human rights law, specifically the provisions on due process contained in paragraph 78 of General Comment 19 on the Right to Social Security. As such the group put forward The People’s Proposal:
Right to Due Process 1. Benefit Sanctions The right to due process is robustly upheld in employment related disciplinary cases and legal proceedings yet is systematically undermined in social security sanctioning processes. The People’s Proposal outlines a step by step investigation and disciplinary process which guarantees: right to information, right to representation, presumption of innocence and transparent decision making prior to the appeal stage. 2. Employment and Support Allowance: Work Capability Assessments As well as problems relating to due process, the current Work Capability Assessments operate on the basis that the sick person is not telling the truth. WCA’s assume that GPs, the people who deliver primary care to the individual, are not capable of determining the impact of physical or mental illness on their patient’s capacity to enter employment. The People’s Proposal outlines steps that can be taken to protect people’s rights including: transparency on the criteria used in Work Capability Assessments; right to representation; primacy of consideration of independent GP evidence (not mandated questionnaires) before decisions are made; automatic health and safety risk assessments when it is determined that a sick person is capable of work related activity; agreement www.pprproject.org
on the accuracy of assessment notes before decisions are made and an automatic right to view a detailed written outcome of the Work Capability Assessment.
Minimum Essential Level of Benefits 3. Risk Assessment at Sanctioning stage Currently â€˜Decision Makersâ€™ determine if a sanction is to be imposed, and the level of that sanction, without considering the impact on the individual. Often this can lead to incredible hardships including, for example, Housing benefit being cancelled and homelessness. The Peopleâ€™s Proposal calls for a risk assessment to be carried out at sanction stage to determine the likely impact of the sanction on the individual and their family. Mitigating measures must be taken to ensure noone falls below the minimum essential level.
Published on Mar 23, 2016
The Right to Work: Right to Welfare (R2W) Group have been active since the summer of 2012, when a group of experienced PPR activists began o...