This piece was published in November 2011.

Given that the Welfare Reform Bill is topical this week, I republish it here.

Child Benefit has been capped since this article was written.

ST Mary’s University College on the Falls Road was the venue for a very informative public meeting on Monday evening.

The meeting was well attended with a good mix of ordinary people from ‘about the road’.  The meeting was not politically motivated and there were no ‘vote for me’ tactics we are usually accustomed to.

A panel of experienced welfare adviser’s from different organisations gave their opinions on what is to be the biggest change in social welfare in over sixty years.

If the coalition government gets its way – the vicious reductions to ‘the bru’ will be fully implemented by 2013.  The government is shaving £18bn from the overall benefit budget across the UK.  £500M of this is being taken from Northern Ireland.

So, how will it affect you?

wheelchair

The Disabled and Sick

Wheelchairs – the new DLA cars

West Belfast has a high number of DLA car drivers.  People are being reassessed and their independence taken from them.  Disabled people who use a mobility car are now being offered a wheelchair to help them get about instead.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

If you’re on high or middle rate DLA with care component, you will get a monthly PIP instead.

Low rate DLA is being done away with, if you lose your low rate – you will also lose your disability premium of tax credit and disability premium of Housing Benefit even if you have dependants living with you.

If you have been given an indefinite lifetime award of DLA in the past, you will be reassessed.

Mental illness is not a disability

The disabled element of tax credit will now only be paid to those on middle or higher rate DLA with care component.  Evidence of DLA needs to be shown.  Mental illness is not included on the list of approved disabilities.

‘The Big Doctor’

In October 2008, the government took last orders for incapacity benefit – also known as ‘the sick’ and ‘invalidity’.   Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has been phased in.

GP’s were told to stop giving sick lines and to issue ‘fit notes’ instead.  ESA seeks to push people into the workplace.  Everyone applying for this benefit will be given a medical by ‘the big doctor’.  Your medical will have one of these three outcomes.

  1. Fail completely – no entitlement to ESA
  2. Pass and go into a Work Related Activity Group (70% of claimants will go here)
  3. Pass and go into a Support Group.  (30% of claimants will go here)

Work Related Activity Group

If you score your 15 points and prove to the big doctor you are sick, you will then get a letter from your ‘client advisor’ in Gloucester House to attend your one of eight Work Focused Interviews (WFI’s).  Both you and your advisor will draw up an action plan on how you will return to the workplace.

Support Group

You don’t need to go for a WFI but you can if you want.

Stormont – Do they give ATOS?

ATOS Healthcare is a private company employed by the Department of Social Development (DSD).  http://www.atoshealthcare.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=89

ATOS is made up of medical professionals.  These can range from occupational health therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, nurses or doctors.  They will be ‘the big doctor’ and assess what kind of work you are fit for.

Computer says no

You will be asked a series of questions during your assessment.  The answers will be yes or no and entered onto a computer.  There is no grey area such as good days or bad days.   The advice given is, not to be coy about your disability.  You need to be open and direct with your advisor.

It’s important to get as much information about your condition from your GP and have your form filled in by a welfare advisor.  Some GP’s charge for this service and most welfare offices are hard to get an appointment with.  But, if your form has been filled in by a welfare advisor and you have medical evidence, your claim be taken more seriously by the ATOS representative and will help in the Appeals process.

During your assessment – you will be required to open up about mental health problems and form trust with a stranger who in some cases won’t even be qualified in the area of your sickness.  If you are applying for ESA for back pain, you might have a speech therapist assessing you.

Benefit cheats

Scroungers and cheats

The scrounger stereotype Jeremy Paxman keeps showing us will be hit.  A crack down on benefit cheats is under way and those found to have been making fraudulent claims will have to pay back what they owe.

If you want to do your bit for society and tout on a neighbour, the number is 0800 975 6050.  Press 1 for jealousy and 2 if it’s because they have nicer windows than you.

I forgot me and my husband got back together…

Excuses will no longer be acceptable.  A fine of £50 for failing to report a change in circumstances within three weeks will be imposed.  After that, you’re seen as a scrounger and a cheat and taken to court for fraud.

image credit The Times

Workers

I’ve worked hard all my life!

Good for you – but you shouldn’t have bothered.  That’s the message people are getting when they retire due to work related ill health.  The last thing you want to do is get sick if you’re in your 50’s because no help will be available to you.

If you medically retire in your late 50’s, you will qualify for Contribution based ESA.  To you, this means ‘you have paid your stamp for years and now have your contributions to fall back on’.  Not anymore.  Even though you have paid your stamp, you will be given 52 weeks of contribution based ESA and then chucked back out to work because you aren’t old enough to claim a pension.

By the way, the pension you saved for over the years will be deducted from your state pension and will be worthless.  You shouldn’t have paid into the scheme.

But, is it too late?

No.  What you can do is lobby your local political representative and ask them to push for ‘full scrutiny’ at the DSD committee meetings.   This means they have to go through any changes to the benefit system with a fine tooth comb and consult you along the way.

Many parties do not want full scrutiny.   It is up to you to find out if your political representative is voting for full scrutiny.  If they aren’t, it’s bad news for you and bad news for them because you can stop voting for them.

image credit express

Pensioners

Not only are they vulnerable to the scum that walks our streets but, our grannies and granda’s are being forced to live on a pittance and are now having their Winter Fuel Allowance cut.

If you are over 80, you will get a one off payment of £300 once the temperature gauge hits a certain number.  If you are a pensioner under 80, you will get £200.

The age for being allowed to claim a pension is rising.  Some MP’s have suggested keeping people in work until they are 70.

stressed-out-parents

Families with children

Call me Dave says no to healthy babies

In January 2011, the Health in Pregnancy Grant was abolished. This one off lump sum of £190 was awarded to all expectant mothers whether they were employed or not.  It was done away with, leaving no other grant in its place.

Beckham or a Brady

Whether you have one child or several, whether you’re a Premiership footballer or a mum struggling to make ends meet – Child Benefit has been frozen for three years.  Everyone gets the same rate.

Childcare fees are up

Parents claiming the childcare element of Child Tax Credit used to pay 20% towards the weekly fees.  This has now changed to 30%.

The joy of tax

The threshold for joint tax credit claims has been lowered by £10,000 for couples ‘going legit’.

march-23rd-birmingham-3

Image credit: Birmingham Against The Cuts

Job Seekers Allowance

The changes to JSA have taken place already with people forced out to work to earn their dole.  Poundland and Nursing Homes have a high number of ‘trainees getting back into the workplace’.  When their six month placement is up, the trainees will have built up their confidence in going out to work, they will have made friends in their workplace and then they will be kicked back on the dole queue again.

Income Support

Income support is another benefit to go.  It will be replaced with Universal Credit.  In a good way, pyjama mama’s can say bye bye to lounging on the settee eating sausage roll baps watching Jeremy Kyle.

Housing Benefit

If you’re under 35 and want to live on your own in private rented accommodation you will only be given enough housing benefit to rent a bedroom in a shared house.

This is to force you into getting a job and earning enough money to rent your own place so you don’t have to share a bathroom with a ‘randomer’.  The only way you can get out of this is to have a severe disability or a child.

Help with paying the Interest on your mortgage

If you were on a qualifying benefit, you got 6% towards paying the interest on your mortgage.  In October 2010, this was halved to 3%.

If you have been on Income based JSA for the past two years, your interest assistance will stop.  Anyone who is in this situation needs to contact their nearest welfare office immediately.  Welfare Officers are concerned that homelessness will rise as a result of this new change.

Universal credit for those aged 16 to 64

  1. Income Support
  2. Income based JSA
  3. Income related ESA
  4. Housing Benefit
  5. Child Tax Credit
  6. Working Tax Credit
  7. Social Fund

All the above benefits will be combined into one.  By 2013, you will be picking up your benefits every month.  The weekly option is being scrubbed.  This is to make you fall in with the rest of society and learn how to live off a lump sum every month.  Notice how Child Benefit is not included here.

Land and Property arrears letters

If you are on means tested benefits

Did you know that if you have children who have flown the nest and still use your house to have mail delivered – you are being charged rates for them using your address?

Something to look into eh?

What’s Stormont doing about it?

The Welfare Reform Bill is silently sneaking through the House of Lords.  It will be making its way to Northern Ireland very soon.

Effectively, what the government is doing, is passing it through parliament and slotting in the most drastic cuts later on when it’s too late for you to do anything about it.

Why are the media not reporting this?

There is very little information in the public domain about these changes.  The media are reporting on the ‘scummy mummy’ brigade, rather than looking out for the public they represent.

What are the Unions doing?

NIPSA has repeatedly asked the government for clarity on proposed benefits rates.  They have been met with answers such as: “Detail not available, Information still being explored, Detail will be available later”.

The union has balloted its members asking for strike action.

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