Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Examining two of Lord Freud's assurances on ESA in 2011

1. In a Lords debate in May 2011, Lord Freud said this:
The regulations do not specify the type of activity that we expect this group to engage in. Indeed, the definition of work-related activity is deliberately broad, covering any activity which makes it more likely that the person will obtain or remain in work. However, there are some absolutes. We will not require customers to undertake medical treatment nor to seek, apply for or take up work. Beyond that, we do not want to be overly prescriptive.
By November 2011, he was saying this, in a debate on the very next Welfare Reform Bill:
Noble Lords asked, in relation to Clause 16, whether this measure extends the definition of work-related activity, which is one of the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. The Bill seeks to clarify what may be included by way of work-related activity, rather than extend its meaning. Work-related activity is already defined in the Welfare Reform Act 2007 as,
    "activity which makes it more likely that the person will obtain or remain in work or be able to do so",
and Clause 54 makes expressly clear that this may include work experience or a work placement.
So in under six months, an 'absolute' limit on never requiring ESA claimants to take up work had already been  abandoned. This is just about the very soonest that change to the law could possibly have been implemented, in express violation of Freud's assurance.

Moving on....

2.  In the exact same May 2011 debate, Freud gave this assurance:-
Customers who do not participate in work-related activity will be sanctioned, and I know noble Lords have some concerns in this area. In response, let me just say this: there are safeguards in place to ensure that sanctions are not improperly applied. Sanctions will apply only to the work-related activity component of the benefit
This time it took until December 2012, but again the exact opposite has been put into place:
What is changing?
Under the new rules ESA claimants in the WRAG who fail to comply with the conditions for receiving benefit will receive an open ended sanction, followed by a fixed period sanction when they re-comply. The fixed period sanction will be one week for a first failure, two weeks for a second failure and four weeks for a third and subsequent failures in a 52 week period.
Claimants who are sanctioned will lose all of their personal allowance, but their work related activity component will not be affected.
In other words, the sanction has been moved from the smaller WRA component of about £30 to the personal allowance of £71, so has increased 230% from the level of Freud's promised safeguard limit.

What this shows is that nothing the government says about plans for benefits can be relied on. Any assurance or promise of safeguards is completely worthless and unenforceable. Although the second of these examples did not happen for over a year, the amendment was planned, drafted, and notified to claimants a lot earlier, so in practice the change started almost the moment Freud promised the opposite.

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