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Welfare Reform on the Web (April 2008): Social security - UK

Children living below the poverty line due to complex council tax rebate rules

J. Carvel

The Guardian, 7 March 2008, p. 4

According to the Local Government Association 1.5 million children are living below the poverty line in households which unnecessarily pay full tax because the rules for claiming relief are complex and poorly advertised. These families are missing out on benefits worth an average of 700 a year and thereby making the government's target of halving child poverty by 2010 less likely to be met.

Energy suppliers in talks to help 4.5m struggling families afford fuel bills

R. Pagnamenta

The Times, Mar. 3rd 2008, p.2

Industry chiefs have been summoned to Whitehall for a series of talks in which they have been attacked for reaping large profits while failing to do enough for those struggling to pay bills. The Government has threatened a windfall tax on profits of leading energy companies which fail to help fund a nationwide scheme which aims to provide subsidised electricity and gas to the 4.5 million people thought to be living in fuel poverty.

Give flexible paid leave to new parents, say Tories

A. Porter

Daily Telegraph, Mar. 14th 2008, p. 2

Under recent Conservative proposals, parents of a new baby would be able to divide 52 weeks of paid parental leave between them. The first 14 weeks of the entitlement would apply only to the mother, but the remaining 38 weeks could be split between the mother and the father.

Interviews for benefits claimants are the worst kind of fraud, say Tories

P. Eccleston

Daily Telegraph, Mar. 14th 2008, p. 6

In the budget, Alistair Darling unveiled plans for the country's 2,640,000 Incapacity Benefit claimants to attend a 'work capability assessment' from April 2010. However, the Treasury is providing only 10m to fund the scheme - 3.80 per claimant. Similar schemes abroad have cost about 100 per person.

(See also Financial Times, Mar. 14th 2008, p. 2)

Managing the balancing act

Anon

Labour Research, Mar. 2008, p. 23-25

While the government hesitates over extending the right to request flexible working to parents of older children, pressure is growing for it to be given to all workers.

Ministers trying to save cash on benefits take-up, says Byers

P. Wintour

The Guardian, Mar.24th 2008, p. 12

Stephen Byers has accused the government of saving up funds by deliberately discouraging the take-up of income related benefits totalling 9bn per year. There has been a rise in unclaimed benefits of over 1bn between 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, the most recently recorded annual figures.

The roll-out of the Jobcentre Plus Office network

National Audit Office

London: TSO, 2007 (House of Commons papers session 2007-08; HC 346)

The roll-out of Jobcentre Plus is one of the largest public sector construction programmes undertaken in the United Kingdom in recent years. It enabled the Department for Work and Pensions to integrate the work of two government agencies (the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency) into Jobcentre Plus in 2002, and to rationalise an estates portfolio of 1,500 offices. The roll-out programme was launched in October 2002. The aim was to re-design, re-brand and refurbish over 800 former Jobcentres and Social Security offices and make the job-seeking and benefit claiming experience more like that in a bank or modern retail environment. This report examines whether the network has been delivered cost-effectively, whether the project management and procurement approach represented good practice, and whether the office network allows Jobcentre Plus to deliver a good service. It concludes that Jobcentre Plus did well to deliver nearly all the planned offices while making savings against the agreed budget of 2.2 billion. Jobcentre Plus succeeded in keeping the network operating while bringing new offices on stream. The rationalisation of the Jobcentre Plus estate saved 135 million a year by 2006-07. The roll-out has also contributed to improvements in customer service. The way the project was managed compares well with external good practice and there are important lessons for other government transformation projects.

Working for a healthier tomorrow

C. Black

London: TSO, 2008

This review of the health of the working age population of Britain points out that 7% are on Incapacity Benefit and an additional 3% are off work sick at any one time. Common mental health problems and musculoskeletal disorders are the major causes of sickness absence and worklessness due to ill health. It calls for:

  • A recognition of the key role of workplace initiatives in promoting health and well-being.
  • Measures to enable more people with health conditions to find and stay in work. There must be an end to the perception that people cannot work unless 100% fit.
  • Replacement of paper-based GP sick notes with an electronic fit note, focusing on what people can do instead of on what they cannot
  • Introduction of a new Fit for Work service, which would provide treatment, advice and guidance to people in the early stages of sickness absence to facilitate an early return to work
  • Integration of the option of specialist mental health provision into employment support programmes
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