Who cares about benefit take-up?

Baroness Lister of Burtersett 27/07/2012 – 3:02 pm

Not the government it would appear.  Non take-up of means-tested benefits is a perennial problem in the social security system.  Annual statistics, published by the Department for Work and Pensions, track trends in the estimated amounts unclaimed of the six main means-tested benefits and the numbers not claiming.  The latest figures show an estimated £7.52bn to £12.31bn went unclaimed in 2009-10, with a third or more of those eligible not claiming some benefits.

Means-tested benefits can only achieve their purpose of reducing poverty, if they are claimed.  Indeed the Child Poverty Unit has suggested that in 2009 there were 400,000 children living in income poverty because their families were not receiving all the benefits and tax credits to which they were entitled.

By chance I discovered that the DWP proposes to cease producing these statistics.  A consultation was launched on 12 July yet, according to Professor Adrian Sinfield, as of 23 July the consultation was not on the DWP and Office of National Statistics lists of consultations.  It makes one wonder how serious the consultation is.

I raised my concern about this proposal during deliberation of the Local Government Finance Bill.  I was moving an amendment concerning take-up of the new localised council tax reduction schemes, which will replace the national council tax benefit .  Because the new schemes will be cash limited, local authorities could be discouraged from encouraging take-up.  As the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Shipley warned, this ‘gives rise to a conflict of interest…that cannot be right’.

It’s remarkable that the government is not interested in the impact on take-up of the localisation of council tax benefit.  It’s even more remarkable that it’s not interested in the take-up of its flagship universal credit scheme, not least as an anticipated substantial increase in take-up is, according to ministers, one of it’s main virtues.

In the interests of accountability and effective social policy, I hope the government will think again.

Censored: Taiwan’s national flag

Lord Faulkner of Worcester 27/07/2012 – 7:35 am

Whilst the flying of the wrong flag at North Korea’s first Olympic women’s football match in Glasgow had all the comic elements of the BBC’s excellent drama Twenty Twelve, and was just an honest mistake, the saga of the Taiwanese flag in London’s Regent Street is altogether more serious and depressing.
Taiwan’s flag went up in Regent Street – along with those of the 205 other nations competing in the London Olympics – on 21 July.  The flags were not part of an official Olympic display, but a worthwhile and colourful initiative by the Regent Street Association, celebrating the diversity of the countries taking part.
By the 24th, Taiwan’s flag had disappeared.  The Chinese embassy had complained to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who in turn contacted the Regent Street Association.  Now in its place is the flag of the entirely invented entity “Chinese Taipei”, a name that was adopted in 1981 in order to let Taiwan compete in the Olympic Games.  This is the flag behind which the Taiwanese athletes will enter the Olympic stadium tonight.
The treatment of Taiwan and its 23 million people by the international community is a disgrace.  It is a democratic country where governments change through the ballot box and where human rights are respected.  It is also an immensely important trading partner for the UK: they send 83,000 tourists and 16,000 students here.
Hardly anyone comes out of the Regent Street flag debacle with credit.  Certainly not the Chinese embassy, whose hostility to Taiwan’s identity is implacable, nor the Foreign Office, which should not have intervened, nor the Regent Street Association which should not have given in.
Only Dr Lyushun Shen, Taiwan’s ambassador in the UK, emerges with dignity.  Who can disagree with him when he says “In a democratic country and in a larger sense, we believe this kind of issue should be regulated by freedom of expression without undue intervention from a third party”?

Accessing Bills

Lord Norton 25/07/2012 – 4:13 pm

In a previous post, I was asked if I could provide a link to a particular Bill, in this case the Justice and Security Bill.  Anyone wishing to access a Bill being considered by Parliament can do so by visiting the Parliament website and clicking on the link ‘Bills and legislation’.   You can then click on Bills before Parliament.  These are listed alphabetically.  In addition to seeing the text of a Bill, you can also see all the documents associated it, including the Explanatory Notes and amendments tabled to the Bill.

If a measure has been enacted, there is a link to an external site providing the text of Acts of Parliament. 

Both sites are invaluable for anyone interested in Acts of Parliament and the passage of legislation.

A Life Worth Living

Baroness Thomas 24/07/2012 – 3:33 pm

A couple of weeks ago I saw the most remarkable film at an All Party Group for young disabled people in Portcullis House.   It was called “A Life Worth Living” made by Dr.Jon Hastie, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and needs 24 hour care.  He and his carer  travelled the length and breadth of Britain last year , visiting other young men with the disease and having frank discussions with them about all aspects of their lives.   Nothing was off limits – they talked about sex, relationships,  independent living, the need for privacy, how they coped with life – and the prospect of early death.   At one point in the film, the action was speeded up and showed Jon being turned through the night ,altogether about six times.  It also showed how Jon’s carer got him up.  Jon, who is 31, ended up in the Netherlands talking to two brothers with the disease – one who ran pop concerts.  His brother was 48 – the oldest person many of us had ever heard of with Duchenne.  The saddest part of the  film was when Jon talked to the distraught father of a newly-diagnosed young boy of 3 or 4.

At present the film is being shown at international film festivals and maybe shown here later on, possibly on Channel Four.

The really encouraging news is that research is under way into Duchenne called exon skipping which is yielding promising results.

In the meantime, we must not go backwards as a country in enabling people like Jon Hastie to lead independent lives.

Still sitting

Lord Norton 23/07/2012 – 7:16 pm

Although the Commons rose last week for the summer recess, the House of Lords is sitting until Wednesday.  The work the House is doing this week is well adumbrated by the  BBC’s Mark D’Arcy in his blog.

Today, the House is in committee on the Justice and Security Bill.   The deliberations are notable for the peers who are present.  They include a batch of leading QCs, including Lord Pannick, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Lord Marks of Henley and Lord Thomas of Gresford.  They include members who have served as head of MI5 (Baroness Manningham-Buller), Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC, Lord Mackay of Clashfern QC), Attorney General (Lord Goldsmith QC), law lord (Lord Lloyd of Berwick QC, who also headed an inquiry into terrorist legislation), Lord Chief Justice (Lord Woolf QC), Cabinet Secretary (Lord Butler of Brockwell) and as Defence ministers (Lord Reid and Lord Gilbert, though in speaking earlier Lord Reid drew on his experience as Home Secretary in dealing with national security).   There are other peers also participating, drawing on different experiences and expertise, but listening to the deliberations on amendments one could not fail to be struck by the high level of debate and the recognition of the need to achieve a balance between justice and security.  As the minister, Lord Wallace of Tankerness QC, observed, the Bill is not a justice or security Bill but a justice and security Bill.