Monday, 7 January 2013

Handcuffs, candles and a pasty

Today I encountered a few local events which are a sad reflection on what is happening to poor people in the UK.  And the worst of the welfare cuts are yet to happen.

First I saw an obviously poor and ill man being led away in handcuffs by three police officers from my local M&S supermarket.  I'm not sure why it took three police officers to lead this passive, unwell man away from the temptations of stealing food, but maybe he was just unlucky (and to be fair, I only saw the tail end of the action).  One of the police officers managed to set off the store security alarm, not once, but twice.

Then immediately afterwards I saw a homeless man who was aged about 20 shivering outside Barclays Bank with his possessions in carrier bags.  I bought him a Cornish Pasty which he demolished as he was so hungry.  He wasn't begging and was being advised by a local christian.

Now perhaps he wasn't begging because of the arrest by a plain clothes police officer and subsequent conviction by the magistrates of a local man for the offence of begging, (yes it became a criminal offence in 2003 - one of David Blunkett's many legacies to social justice).  On New Year's Eve, the local paper, crowed on about how he was fined and made to pay a victim surcharge totalling £55 which was "seven times the amount he had scrounged" off members of the public.  Doubtless the local police and magistrates feel they did their public duty by dealing with this case so robustly during the Christmas holiday.  Well done too the journo for making such good use of your education and training that you manage to use the "s" word in your article - a career with the Daily Mail beckons!

Then today there's an article in the local paper about how people have been stealing cash, rosary beads and votive candles from a local catholic church.  The priest commented that "I’m sure the thieves must be using them for warmth and so they can read". 

Things really have become dire when impoverished people are fined for begging and are resorting to stealing church candles to keep warm.  And it's happening in a typical Middle English town.  It could easily be your town.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Increase the National Minimum Wage and slash the benefits bill!

On reason why the welfare bill is so big, is because of the gradual drift since the 1970s towards subsidising low earnings through the benefits and tax credits system.  This was started by the Conservatives under Edward Heath with Family Income Supplement and Rent Rebates, added to by the Thatcher government's mass shifting of public subsidy from bricks and mortar to rents for those on low incomes with the introduction of Housing Benefit and then accelerated under New Labour with the introduction of Tax Credits. 

The Coalition's Universal Credit will just make this worse by reducing the "withdrawal rate" when people earn and the automatic adjustment of benefits through the proposed Real Time computer system will provide a ready workforce which can be called in and sent home when it suits employers - public subsidy not just of low pay, but poor employment practises too.

It stands to reason that if wage levels increase, the amount paid out as public subsidy through benefits and tax credits is reduced and now the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research have quantified this.  Specifically, increasing the National Minimum Wage would save the public purse a net £2 billion.  It is surprising that there seems to be no government research into this which I discussed in an earlier blog.

Here is a summary of the Resolution Foundation and IPPR research in their press release:


Introducing the living wage across the UK would save the Treasury just over £2 billion a year, a new study will reveal.

The analysis from the Resolution Foundation and the IPPR think tanks to be published early in the New Year is the most detailed examination yet of the potential impact of the living wage on the public finances. The living wage is a pay level calculated as the minimum hourly rate for a basic but acceptable standard of living and currently set at £7.45 outside London and £8.55 in the capital.

The new analysis suggests that its introduction nationally would add around £6.5 billion to the gross annual earnings of the country’s employees.

However, the report shows that the Treasury would collect more than half of the initial financial gains from a living wage – around £3.6 billion - in the form of higher income tax payments and national insurance contributions, as well as lower spending on benefits and tax credits.

But the study also examines the extra costs to the public purse of paying a living wage to all public sector workers. It suggests that wage costs would increase by more than £1.3 billion – leaving an overall public saving of more than £2 billion.

The report will also look at the possible effects of a living wage on labour demand, recognising that the lower national minimum wage (currently £6.19) is set by the Low Pay Commission to avoid risking jobs and that an immediate shift to a universal living wage across all sectors may not be feasible.

As a start, the report will recommend, all Whitehall departments and London boroughs should pay their staff at least the living wage by April 2015 and explore the costs of paying sub-contracted staff the same rate. The London weighting means that most public sector workers already earn at or above the London living wage, so introducing the living wage for all staff would cost relatively little in the capital but would set a precedent for others to consider following. Only six London boroughs currently are accredited living wage employers -Lewisham, Islington, Camden, Lambeth, Hounslow, and Southwark.

Five million people are paid less than the living wage, three million of whom are women. Yet more than 85 per cent have permanent contracts. More than 3 million households (13 per cent) contain at least one adult earning less than the living wage. Fewer than 45,000 workers have achieved a living wage as a result of recent campaigns.

The report builds on research previously published by Resolution Foundation and IPPR which showed that the cost of paying a living wage would add less than one per cent to the wage bills of firms in sectors such as construction, food production and banking.

Kayte Lawton, Senior Research Fellow at the IPPR  said: "At a time when typical wages have flatlined but prices have continued rising, concerted action to drive up levels of pay for low earners is an essential component in the improvement of living standards. As a first step, making sure that all council staff in London are paid at least the living wage wouldn’t cost very much but would be an important symbol of political leadership. Councils in other parts of the country, like Glasgow and Newcastle, have shown that the living wage can be affordable even though the costs are higher."

Matthew Pennycook, Senior Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "There are significant overall public savings to be made from paying a living wage, on top of the beneficial effects it would have on reducing working poverty. Public-sector employers are well-placed to expand the living wage and to set an example which the private sector can follow."

Workers earning less than a living wage across the country:
32% in the North East (375,000 people)
31% in Yorkshire and Humber (714,000 people)
31% in Wales (344,000 people)
30% in the West Midlands (617,000 people)
28% in the East Midlands (552,000 people)
27% in Scotland (623,000 people)
27% in the South West (583,000 people)
25% in the North West (683,000 people)
24% in the East of England (593,000 people)
23% in the South East (843,000 people)
20% in London (581,000 people)

Friday, 21 December 2012

Not blaming the poor

The myths about skivers and scroungers seem to have become so embedded in national consciousness that it is refreshing to see some honest and objective research attack the widespread misconceptions, as recently published by the esteemed Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  There's also no research from the right-inclined policy research bodies which supports the idea that people are choosing to have to survive on benefits.

This issue is becoming a central political theme and is of huge importance for the type of country we will be living in.  As another Neil said, "I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old".
Are ‘cultures of  worklessness’ passed down the generations?

This study investigates the idea of ‘intergenerational cultures of worklessness’ and if there are families where ‘three generations have never worked’. It is based on research with families living in deprived neighbourhoods in Glasgow and Middlesbrough.

Key points
  • The idea of ‘three generations of the same family who have never worked’ appeals to many,including politicians and policy-makers, as an explanation of entrenched worklessness in the UK.
  • Despite strenuous efforts, the researchers were unable to locate any such families. Even two generations of complete worklessness in the same family was a very rare phenomenon, which is consistent with recent quantitative surveys of this issue.
  • Families experiencing long-term worklessness remained committed to the value of work and preferred to be in jobs rather than on benefits.
  • There was no evidence of ‘a culture of worklessness’ – values, attitudes and behaviours discouraging employment and encouraging welfare dependency – in the families.
  • Workless parents were keen for their children to do better than they had, and actively tried to help them find jobs. Working-age offspring remained strongly committed to conventional values about work as part of a normal transition to adulthood. They were keen to avoid the poverty, worklessness and other problems experienced by their parents. 
  • The long-term worklessness of parents in these families was a result of the impact of complex, multiple problems associated with living in deep poverty over years.
  • Policy-makers and politicians need to abandon theories – and resulting policies – that see worklessness as primarily the outcome of a culture of worklessness, held in families and passed down the generations.
More details here

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Unspeakable, but why are we not surprised?

From The Independent 4th December 2012

"Disabled man abandoned on the second floor of building during Atos fire alarm evacuation

A disabled man was trapped in a centre run by Atos, which assesses fitness for work, when the fire alarm went off and staff evacuated the building, leaving him behind in his wheelchair.
Geoff Meeghan, 32, who has early-onset Parkinson’s and is unable to walk more than three metres without support, was being assessed on the second floor of a building in Neasden, north-west London.

Disabled people arriving for appointments are supposed to be asked if they can exit the building without assistance, but Mr Meeghan, pictured, was not. He waited with his support worker Nick Ephgrave, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, and his sister, who acts as one of his carers, before being called in for his assessment. A few minutes in, the alarm sounded and the doctor present said they needed to evacuate.

“The doctor held the door open for us to come out but then ran down the stairs and left us there,” Mr Meeghan said. “We weren’t allowed to use the lift and asked a security guard for help – he said he’d send some but no one came. Eventually another security guard came past and stayed with us, even though he had been told to evacuate.

“Even though I can tackle stairs with help, it was a highly stressful situation and I felt like it was far too risky. I was worried that flames might come up the stairs and that I might fall or something. It wasn’t a drill. We could see the fire engine arriving outside. I feel like there was a general lack of respect for disabled people at Atos – they make you feel as though you’ve done something wrong by being disabled – like you’re being persecuted.”

An Atos spokesperson said: “This should never have happened and we apologise unreservedly. We will be getting in contact with Mr Meeghan directly. We have since reviewed this case internally with the building security and management team to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Is the Department for Work and Pensions a failing organisation?

The DWP is very adept at covering up bad news about its errors.  And we also hear accounts of how staff are threatened with management action if they go public about internal problems.

Advisers regularly encounter the most awful service - indifferent, patronising and even rude and obstructive behaviour by some staff, excessive delays, abysmal benefit entitlement decisions by staff who don't know what they are doing.  There are of course many notable exceptions and I have been really impressed with the professionalism of some of the staff I have dealt with.

Certainly when I was seconded to DWP headquarters some years ago to do policy work for six months, the working atmosphere was far more pleasant than other organisations I had worked for and I really enjoyed working with most of the people I met.

However, given what us advisers encounter, the DWP as a whole very often looks seriously incompetent.  Not quite as bad as the Home Office, but in the same league.

There clearly are major problems within DWP.  The best evidence is found in their annual staff survey done each autumn.  This has consistently shown that staff morale is dreadful.  The most recently published survey is from 2011 (2012 has not yet been published).  Here are some headlines:

  • Only 23% of DWP staff believe that the organisation is well managed
  •  Only 14% believe that when changes in DWP are made, they are usually for the better
  • Only 21% believe that actions of DWP's senior managers are consistent with DWP's values
  • Only 27% believe it is safe to challenge the way things are done in DWP
  • Only 16% have confidence in DWP's senior managers' decisions
  • Only 38% are satisfied with the training they receive
  • Only 27% are proud of working for DWP and only 24% feel that DWP inspires them ton do the best in their job
  • And only 22% believe that DWP's senior managers will take any action on the results in the survey.
Even among the 200 or so senior civil servants who were surveyed, only 13% believed that the top management team modelled a culture of effective teamwork, only 20% felt that poor performance was effectively dealt with and only 34% felt the appraisal system was fair and based on merit.

You can read the full survey results here and decide yourself whether this is a evidence of a failing organisation:   DWP staff survey 2011   DWP Senior Civil Sservice Survey 2011

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Too often the debate about welfare reform is evidence-free and based on wildy inaccurate stereotypes of spongers living it up at the taxpayers' expenses, here is some brand new research about the reality of "life on benefit" for private sector tenants.  I am pleased to have been one of the research team:

New Report: ‘Poor homes, poor health- to heat or to eat? Private sector tenant choices in 2012′


Stark choices for private tenants on benefits and increased demands on the NHS

“The health of tenants in the private rented sector who are in receipt of housing and other benefits, is
clearly being put further at risk as a consequence of the Government’s welfare reforms and poor conditions within the sector, and this is not just a London issue”, said Dr Stephen Battersby, Chair of the Pro Housing Alliance at the launch of a research report commissioned by the PHA – Poor homes, poor health- to heat or to eat? Private sector tenant choices in 2012.
He continued, “The study by GLHS shows that lack of security and high costs for what can be dangerous and unhealthy housing contributes to poor health including mental health. This is made worse by the difficulties of finding the money to keep warm and eat – sometimes tenants cannot do both. This will lead to greater demands on the NHS, and one wonders if this is part of a policy of coercion by destitution” he said.

Gill Leng who led the research said “Talking to tenants and advice agencies up and down the country has shown just how the cuts are impacting on people who already have very little money to live on. It is clear that health inequalities will be further increased not reduced”.
She highlighted one quote from a tenant interviewed in Blackpool where rent is comparatively cheap and the PRS accounts for 22% of the housing market, but who could not move to cheaper accommodation:

“It would have to be a tent in a field.”
A single pensioner interviewed said:
I have lost contact with all my old friends because I am embarrassed about the circumstances I am living in and my lack of money.”
It is difficult for advice agencies too, who are in their own words “drowning under demand”. One adviser interviewed said
“People will live in dangerous situations with their fingers crossed rather than tackle their landlord.”
The worries about landlords and lack of security at the cheaper end of the market condemn tenants to suffer. As two quotes from the report highlight:
“Went to CAB about damp. Have had difficult conversations with landlord who threatened he would not renew my contract if I pursue this.”
“[Landlord] is not a nice bloke to get on the wrong side of.”

The report concludes that the Government should be doing more to assess the public health impacts of the welfare reforms, particularly as cutting one budget which merely reflects the high cost of housing, increases demands on other budgets such as GPs in the NHS.
The full report can be downloaded 

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Panorama and Dispatches expose the scandal of sick people being declared fit for work

Two TV programmes last night exposing the scandal of the DWP and ATOS perversely declaring people fit for work when they clearly aren't.  I am interviewed on Panorama.

Most disturbing of all are the evasive and contradictory comments on Panorama by DWP Minister Chris Grayling MP about whether or not there are targets to cut the numbers getting benefits.  In the context of a legally regulated system, targets would not only be unlawful but potentially actionable by anyone who has lost out as a result.

Just as well he was not appearing before a Tribunal or his evidence might be declared unreliable.  Also his awful comment which encourages judges to ignore the law when making decisions on appeals. 

Funny how many rulers seem to think that the rule of law only applies to laws which control the poor and not to laws which empower them and help them achieve justice.

BBC Panorama   Channel 4 Dispatches

More forced, unpaid labour

A report that compulsory unpaid work for Jobseekers Allowance claimants will be extended.  I did warn you.  All the evidence (examples given in this blog) shows that this won't reduce unemployment, so the government's response will be to extend it further: 9 months? 12 months? Forever?

Note the typically hopeless comment by the useless Liam Byrne MP.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Doctors' advice ignored by politicians

The doctors' professional association, British Medical Association, is the latest organisation to call for the Employment and Allowance Work Capability Assessment to be scrapped.  They rightly describe it harmful to vulnerable people and "accusatory".

You can read their comments here.

Shortly after, Citizens Advice reports a surge in people seeking advice about ESA appeals - at a time when funding for advice agencies is being cut back.

Like patients who are too obsessed and arrogant to have any insight into their health-damaging behaviour,  I doubt that any national politicians will be taking the doctors' advice.

The on-off video

The Ministry of Justice publishes several public information videos on YouTube - topics include how to be a witness, what happens at an Employment Tribunal and so on.  It's the sort of neutral and useful information you'd expect to see.  In March they uploaded a short video showing what happens at a Tribunal hearing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeals. 

Obviously the DWP didn't like this - by demystifying the process, it was likely to encourage appellants to attend the Tribunal and thus increase their chances of success.  So on 19th March Chris Grayling MP, DWP Minister responsible for ESA sent an email to the Ministry of Justice objecting to the content.

I obtained the email using the Freedom of Information Act.  Here it is:

“From: Minister for Employment [mailto:MINISTER.EMPLOYMENT@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK]
Sent: 19 March 2012 14:32
Cc: Minister for Employment
Subject: Youtube video about appeals

Afternoon, our attention has been drawn to a video on your official youtube channel that talks about making an appeal on Employment and Support Allowance:

Specific concerns are:

• The line that the claimant may not have had a chance to talk to someone since the decision was made - our new processes ensure that Jobcentre Plus will have spoken to the claimant to ensure they understand what the decision is, why it’s been made and what they can do next;

• It says the claimant will have received a medical examination - the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical examination, if the word medical must be used we’d be OK with medical assessment, but would prefer something like “an assessment of your capability for work”;

• It mentions bringing additional evidence to the tribunal - again, our new processes are trying to ensure that new medical evidence doesn’t just go to the tribunal but instead gets to JCP first so we can undertake a reconsideration;

• It notes that JCP doesn’t normally send anyone to a tribunal - while this is true both because of cost and because the evidence suggests it makes no difference to the tribunal decision, it does feel quite a negative comment. The appearance of a presenting officer or not doesn’t reflect how important we feel the tribunal is or the claimant’s case is; and

• A couple of times it’s noted that a claimant is twice as likely to win their appeal if they turn up in person - again this is broadly true, but doesn’t help to reduce the opinion that it isn’t the facts of the case that are important, but the turning up in front of a tribunal and pleading their case.

Can we discuss what we might be able to do? ”

So basically, Grayling objected to various comments which would encourage people to participate in the hearing.  His objection to "medical examination" is perverse - not only is the phrase used in the law, but it's also used by ATOS and DWP in their letters to people.

He also wanted people to not send in evidnce to the Tribunal - this would put people at a huge disadvantage and the rationale that DWP should see it is misleading because all evidence sent in advance is copied to all parties, including DWP and if they had the courtesy to actually attend Tribunal hearings, they'd get to see evidence handed in at the hearing.  And as we all know, even when they have seen compelling evidence, the DWP still ignore it.

Anyway, having had this information released, by coincidence (?) the video re-appeared on YouTube the same day I received the information.  This then led to over 9,000 views as word got out on the disability and advice networks - Grayling's attempt to censor the video just increased the level of interest in it.  Curiously, the Ministry of Justice denied that any information exists about the video!

Having had such a surge in interest, the video was again taken offline by the Ministry of Justice.  "Mystery of Justice" might be a better description.

I have fired off another Freedom of Information request, but this will take weeks.  In the meantime, various people made copies of the video and you can view it on Youtube by searching here.

So far over 5,000 people have since seen it.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cameron's welfare reform speech

Cameron's much publicised speech on Monday about further cuts in benefits for people of working age is deeply worrying.  The issue of housing benefit for under 25s has caught the headlines, but there is a danger that this obscures the clutch of other very nasty ideas.

The model being promoted is a USA-style welfare system.  Now this is the country with the worst health outcomes in the wealthy world, the worst inequalities, the worst crime figures and any visitor to the US can tell you tales of the hordes of mentally ill, disabled and destitute people to be seen on the streets.  Over one million families in the USA are homeless and 10% of the US population have to resort to a food bank at some point each year.  It really is the last welfare system that any government with half a brain should want to copy.

Obama is so concerned about the injustice and negative economic effect of their welfare system that he has made efforts to increase the level of welfare payments in and some states have been reining in their workfare programmes and have prosecuted private welfare-to-work providers for mass fraud.  Of course, Cameron conveniently ignores these aspects.

That aside, I was deeply concerned about the wild inaccuracies about the benefits system in Cameron's speech.  Either he was misbriefed by civil servants or he chose to ignore briefings. 

I find it amazing how people in the UK are generally pretty cynical about politicians' truthfulness - lies about the Iraq War, expenses scandal, broken Manifesto promises, etc.  However, as soon as a politician slags off benefit claimants, everyone believes them!

Anyway, here are some examples of the fibs in Dave's speech:

"Tens of thousands of incapacity benefits reassessed and found ready for work".  Not true.  People are found not to meet the very high threshold for "limited capability for work", not "fit for work", let alone "ready for work".  As his Minister Chris Grayling conceded not long ago, very many coming off benefits for the sick have significant health issues.  And then we all know how flawed the re-assessment process is anyway.

"..instead of a complicated pension with endless top-ups there will be a straightforward, flat rate of £140 per week".  Not true.  Very many poorer pensioners will still have to claim the housing credit element of Universal Credit (so complex, the DWP still hasn't been able to announce details) and try their luck at claiming one of the many new local versions of council tax support.  So three bodies will have to be applied to, as opposed to the current two.

"Half of new [DLA] claimants never had to provide medical evidence".  That's because the DWP usually write direct to the claimant's doctor and/or seek evidence from an ATOS doctor - it's called efficiency.  Anyway, if this is so flawed, all you have to do Mr Cameron is to get people to supply such evidence without turning the disability benefits system upside down from April 2013 as you are doing.

"Someone can get £130 a week DLA by simply filling out a bit of paper".  Pray, what's the evidence that this is the case?  As the parent of a child who received DLA after a struggle (you said so at a reception you hosted at the House of Commons in 2007 - I know, I was there), you ought to know better.

Cameron then gives the example of a working couple without children taking home £24,000 a year with a couple down the road who have 4 children and get £27,000 a year in benefits for not working.  Of course they get more...because their needs are greater because they have children.  If the working couple had children, they'd get benefits and tax credits to help out, so it's a completely false and highly misleading comparison.  Apparently the workless couple also get £140 per week housing benefit - where does this figure come from?

As regards housing benefit, there really is a simple solution:  bring in rent controls like most other countries have and stop landlords being subsidised by and dependant on the benefits system.  Sadly government policy is going in the other direction by forcing up rents in the social sector to 80% of the private sector. 

"[19 year old young person] left college and went down to the jobcentre to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance, she found out that if she moved out of her parents' place she was automatically entitled to housing benefit".  Now which planet is this man on?  Life is not at all like this.  First, this mythical young person would have to find a landlord who accepted people on housing benefit.  They she'd have to somehow raise the money for a deposit and rent in advance (two months in practice, as HB is paid usually one month in arrear), then pay to equip the place.  And even if she could somehow do all that on her own, the DWP's own figures show that two thirds don't get all their rent paid by HB.  The evidence from DWP was published just last week and is here.  Then the young person has to feed. and clothe herself and pay her water, fuel and transport out of all of £56.25 a week (assuming they don't have a shortfall in their HB).  So Dave, please explain how your example can happen in real life?

"It pays not to work".  Again not true.  The problem is the means tested system which penalises people for trying to work combined with our high land costs in the UK, high costs of travel and high costs of childcare.  That's assuming the system actually works and doesn't screw up people's income or ask for money back because of some official cock-up.  Of course, that'll never happen under Universal Credit will it?

"[causes of poverty]...debt, family breakdown, educational failure or addiction".  What about our persistent problems of high unemployment since the 1980s and the extent of low pay?  And anyway only 4% of working age claimants have any addiction and you do get addicts in work - ask any musician.  But then putting it this way, Cameron gives out the message that poverty is all down to the financially incompetent, spouse-deserting, unintelligent boozers and druggies in our midst.

"If someone is signed off work with a bad back there's no requirement to take steps to get well to keep on receiving that benefit".  Well actually, they wouldn't have got benefit for the "bad back", even under the old system, unless it was a serious and chronic problem which could not be sorted out easily.  Anyway, what Cameron says is again not true.  People who get ESA and who are in the work related activity group can be required to identify rehabilitation they could do. 

And on it goes.  Half truth followed by distortion followed by innuendo.  Also outrageous that his "facts" have not been challenged by the useless Liam Byrne.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A powerful video - must watch

A really powerful 10 minute video from The Guardian about what is happening to benefit claimants.  It includes a reference to the leaked internal DWP email about people committing suicide after having their benefits cut.

DWP press officers, try to play down the impact of the service on people, but all advisers regularly encounter claimants at their wits end, and worse as a result of problems with the benefits system.

And still the Labour Front Bench don't stand up and challenge the government on welfare reform - obsessed with the small demographic of a few swing voters in marginal seats who are apparently concerned about "scroungers".  Shame on them.

As a very experienced, (and I hope knowledgeable), adviser, there are many times when I find dealing with the DWP on behalf of my clients absolutely maddening.  How must it feel for people caught up in the system and left with little or no money and being punished for their poverty?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Forced labour for benefit claimants - a scathing analysis

Jonathan Portes is the former Chief Economist at the DWP and the Cabinet Office and he now heads up the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.  His blog contains a devastating critique of the government's plans to force benefit claimants to work for their benefits.  Read it by clicking here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Troubled Families and a Pickled Troubled Initiative

History shows that every so often there is moral panic about an alleged underclass who it is claimed subvert the nation's moral fibre.  It goes right back through the centuries.

The problem is that when the evidence for such claims is presented, it simply fails any half-decent scrutiny, consisting as it does of weakly correlated estimates and assumptions.

So shame on the civil servants who have allowed ministers to get away with the latest "Troubled Families" initiative.  By lumping a pile of health, social care and criminal justice costs together and then cross referencing it to some data on poverty (yes, poverty, not anti-social behaviour), we are told there are 120,000 "Troubled families" and we are told that this underclass costs us a small fortune. 

Using poverty data and then equating it with anti-social and criminal behaviour is an appalling slur on the thousands who live by society's standards and bring their children up to be good citizens despite their dreadful economic circumstances.  Yes, people who are poor are more likely to become offenders, addicts or unwell, but it does not follow that multiple deprivation makes you a nuisance neighbour any more than great wealth makes you a kind-hearted, generous person or a mean, old Scrooge.

Of course, originally, the government claimed there were 150,000 Troubled Families, but then even they couldn't get the figures to justify this number and the figure was quietly reduced by 20%.

So "troubleshooters" are going to go and cajole these people into becoming better citizens.  One of the indicators is that someone in the family moves into paid work.  Well, if these families really are that dysfunctional and their kids so feral, do we really want their parents working long hours and the kids not having a modicum of parental restraint as a result! 

How about cajoling a few employers to create jobs for them or cajoling a few credit companies into cleaning up their act?

No, this is a Troubled Initiative which will fail because it is based on blaming the poor rather than the socio-economic causes which either cause or exacerbate complex social and inter-personal problems.  It is also the height of naivety to think that troubleshooters, whoever they may be, can somehow outperform professionally trained and supervised social workers, teachers and youth workers.

The British Association of Social Workers has a very perceptive assessment of the Troubled Initiative which I reproduce below:

"Commenting on plans unveiled by the Westminster secretary of state for communities, Eric Pickles, for all 152 councils in England to be incentivised to send in “trouble-shooters” to deal with problem families, Nushra Mansuri, professional officer, British Association of Social Workers, has suggested the move is indiscriminately picking on families with low incomes.

Speaking after Mr Pickles outlined the plan to encourage councils to take steps to tackle problems said to emanate from 120,000 families, Ms Mansuri said: “Is the government saying that being poor is a crime? This figure of 120,000 ‘problem families’ being bandied about is cobbled together from research that was conducted 8 years ago, and was based on families having 5 out of 7 characteristics, including no parent in work, and having a low income.

“In today’s economic climate, that could apply to many, many families. A family having problems does not automatically equate to them being labelled a ‘problem family’ and causing a nuisance to anyone else. This is particularly unfair when the government’s austerity programme is driving so many more people into poverty.”

The Pickles plan is based on the government’s wish to “turn around” the lives of the so-called “problem families” by 2015. The government estimates that the 120,000 families are currently costing the state around £9bn each year in costs to the NHS, the police and social services.
Ministers have earmarked £448m from existing departmental budgets over four years to help pay for a network of people who will identify families in need of help, make sure they get access to the right services and ensure that action is taken. However, the fund will only cover 40% of the cost of the scheme and councils who want to use it will have to agree to fund the other 60% themselves.
To be defined as “troubled” the government says families need to meet five out of seven criteria, including having truanting children, parents with addiction and a history of anti-social behaviour.

However, research by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has questioned the government’s calculation of the number of families that meet this criteria. An ERSC report says ministers are misrepresenting its background research on which the figure of 120,000 “troubled families” is based.

Focusing on the government’s definition, BASW’s Mansuri continued: “The government also needs to decide whether there is a link between deprivation and crime or not. At the time of last summer’s riots, David Cameron said: ‘These riots were not about poverty. That insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.’

“Now we have the government stirring up hatred against poor families, stigmatising them and attempting to dismiss the entire social work profession as wishy washy do-gooders.

“If Mr Pickles was “fluent in social work”, he would realise that cutting back social work services to children and families and not deploying frontline social workers in the most effective way is not the answer. Early intervention ends up costing the state less both financially and socially.

“As for dispensing with the ‘it’s not my fault’ culture, perhaps the government could start by ending the blame culture. Going after a tiny minority and constantly pillorying them is not the most effective means of promoting social inclusion and community cohesion, it tends to up the ante and promote
self-fulfilling prophecies of failure for some families and sadly, poor outcomes for children.

“The government seeks to punish and bully people for being disadvantaged. We fail to see how this will result in a fairer and more harmonious society for any of us.”

Mandatory work activity - more pain for more people

Yep. As predicted the government extends the scale of mandatory work activity for unemployed people, even though the DWP's own research shows it makes virtually no difference to long term benefit numbers.  Oh well, don't let statistics get in the way of a good bit of welfare bashing.

The only reported opposition from the utterly useless and disengaged Labour spokesman, Liam Byrne MP (please Birmingham, make him mayor), is that the scheme would not help that many people. Nothing about opposition to the principle of workfare or its destructive effects on job creation, wage levels (which then require public subsidy via benefits/tax credits) or how it actually prevents helping people moving into paid work.