Evason Report: Too Long, Didn't Read

On 19th January the Evason Group, or the Welfare Reform Working Group, established by the 'A Fresh Start' Agreement published their recommendations for the mitigation of the impacts of welfare reform. 

The Scope and Purpose of the Working Group

The Welfare Reform Mitigations Working Group was established by the ‘A Fresh Start’ Agreement with scope to provide specific recommendations within a specific financial envelope:

  • Those claimants groups who could be defined as vulnerable and for whom the resources should be used to provide financial support additional to that of UK welfare system
  • How best to allocate the available funding to afford the greatest levels of protection taking account of the degree by which changes will impact on those vulnerable groups

The Executive have agreed to implement the Working Group’s recommendations on top up payments.

Strands

The Report has three strands

Strand One “relates to allaying the considerable anxiety that exists with regard to the welfare reform legislation and providing supplementary payments, for varying periods, over the four years of this programme for carers, those with ill health and disability and families.”

Strand Two “relates to supporting and protecting claimants, especially the most vulnerable, with independent advice at key points in all of the changes that are to come having regard, in particular, to the provisions in the legislation dealing with sanctions: financial penalties whereby claimants may lose entitlement to benefit.”

Strand Three “looks forward to the introduction of universal credit and, following the strategy adopted in Scotland, the need to explore new ways to alleviate hardship.”

 

Strand One

(1) Carers (p.5)

The Report recommends that carers whose person they care for does not qualify for PIP should receive a supplementary payment to cover their financial loss for one year from the date entitlement ceases.

(2) Persons unable to work because of ill health (p.5)

                Relating to ESA claimant there are three recommendations:

  • Claimants should be given three months warning that their entitlement will soon be exhausted
  • An automatic check should be made to assess if they will have entitlement to income-related ESA when contributory ESA ceases
  • Where neither of these measures are of assistance to the claimant a supplementary payment, fully equivalent to the loss, should be made for 12 months, providing there is continuing medical evidence relating to fitness for work.

(3) Persons with a disability (p.7)

  • Supplementary payments, equal to the benefit in payment, should be paid to DLA claimants who have been refused PIP on reassessment who lodge appeals (to appeal tribunal and beyond) to challenge the outcome of their assessment for PIP. The payments will cease if the appeal is unsuccessful but will not be recoverable.
  • To protect moderately and severely disabled persons, supplementary payments should be made to those who qualify for PIP, after assessment or appeal, but at a reduced rate where the weekly loss exceeds £10. The payments will be made from the point at which PIP is reduced for a 1 year period and be equal to 75% of the loss.
  • PIP has two components: the daily living component and the mobility component. In the assessment process claimants will be awarded points depending on what they can and cannot do. The magic number for both components is eight points. There is concern that this method of assessment may not fully capture the consequences for claimants in Northern Ireland of conflict-related injury. Therefore, where such claimants are judged to have no entitlement to PIP, we recommend that those scoring at least four points in the reassessment should be awarded an extra four points. They should then qualify for supplementary payments at the standard rate of whichever PIP component is most advantageous to them. The payments should be for a period of 1 year.

The Report makes an additional recommendation relating to those who currently qualify for the high rate mobility component of DLA and use their payment to lease cars. This may lead to difficulties for those who do not qualify for the enhanced rate of the mobility component of PIP. The Report recommends: “the Department for Social Development enter into discussions with Motability to ensure the transitional package of support developed for GB will be extended to Northern Ireland.”

(4) Additions to benefits for those with a disability (p.9)

Those who are in receipt of the enhanced disability premium or the severe disability element will lose out if they move from the top rate of DLA care to the standard rate of the daily living component of PIP, the group recommends “supplementary payments to cover the loss for up to 1 year depending on the date of the reassessment.”

The Report recognises that, for example, a claimant in receipt of DLA and because of the outcome of reassessment for PIP the claimant may lose some or all of the following: the Enhanced Disability Premium, the Severe Disability Premium and possibly the standard Disability Premium. In this instance it recommends supplementary payments to cover the loss for up to 1 year depending on the date of the reassessment, which should cease if for example the claimant is successful at a PIP appeal before the twelve months are exhausted.

(5) The Benefit Cap (p.10)

The Benefit Cap is not expected to have “significant impact” in NI. However the Report recommends where it does supplementary payments should be made for up to four years, depending on the date of the application of the cap, to families with children not covered by the exemptions.

(6) Discretionary Support Scheme (p.10)

The Report considers that further provision should be made via this scheme, or otherwise, to assist those at risk of hardship as a result of low wages and the cuts to be made in support for this group. The scheme should also make provision for emergency assistance in cases of difficulty relating to the introduction of Universal Credit.

Strand Two

(7) Advice (p.11)

The Working Groups foresees four major areas of work:

  • the time limiting of contributory ESA
  • the move from DLA to PIP for those of working age
  • the new sanctions regime
  • the introduction of universal credit.

In Appendix Three the Working Group sets out the advice strategy proposed by the Report (p.36).

The Report also highlights all of this work will have to be done on top of the routine work of the advice sector. Therefore the resources provided in the “A Fresh Start” Agreement must be a genuine addition to the support already provided.

(8) Sanctions (p.11)

The Report welcomes the safeguards in the NI Welfare Reform legislation but wishes to go further recommending:

  • There should be an independent helpline to assist claimants, who may need support with an appeal or accessing hardship payments, when a sanction is imposed.
  • The Report also states “Additionally, we are concerned that Jobs and Benefits Offices may require some reorganisation to face the challenges ahead. We understand that discussion of this is already underway and recommend that change should proceed quickly to ensure that single, integrated, teams are in place - from the welcome desk to decision making - to ensure that the general public has access to the seamless service it has a right to expect.”

 

Strand Three

(9) Tax Credits Mitigation: Universal Credit (p.13)

The Report recommends that a third element be added to the discretionary support scheme, which “would recommend that families, and others depending on resources available, claiming working tax credit / universal credit should be entitled to supplementary payments in recognition of the expenses those in employment incur with a special weighting for lone parents taking account of the cost of childcare.”

“Such payments might also address the sense of grievance those in work on low wages may feel when they compare themselves with those not in employment. Additionally, this element could feed into the broader strategy of reducing economic inactivity.”

It recommends £105 million - £35m for each year - be provided for these payments commencing in 2017-18.

It also recommends “£2 million be set aside, from 2017 when the roll out of universal credit is due to commence, to make emergency payments where hardship occurs as a result difficulties which are not due to any fault on the part of the claimant.”

(10) Tax Credits Mitigation: Financial Capability (p.15)

The Report recommends that “a small amount” (£2.7million) be set aside to support the voluntary sector to develop new ways of assisting people in need during the move towards Universal Credit.

The report sets out three suggestions for this:

  • Addressing food poverty with a preference for support being given to projects matching the following criteria:
    • Respect for the dignity of recipients of help
    • Promoting employability of those delivering help
    • Providing nutritious food and meeting the needs of children, who qualify for free school meals in term-time, during school holidays.

There is further detail on this in Appendix 5 (p.31)

  • The Report realises that, despite the Advice Strategy already discussed, there will still be those who are hard to reach and a project should be undertaken to allow for people they will come into contact with (for example, Sure Start staff, community psychiatric nurses, those managing hostel, church organisations etc) to act as guides or signposts to help. More details are available in Appendix 6 (p.33).

 

  • To address the growing financial insecurity of many the Report acknowledges that: “At many points there may be a need for help with financial adjustment. It is also important that those on low income have access to credit provided by socially responsible bodies.” It wishes to support the efforts of credit unions to develop new ways of doing things. Further details of how this could be done is set out in Appendix 7 of the Report (p.34).

 

You can read the report in full here, or download it at the start of this article. 

 

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