Benefit Safeguards - policy issues
Unfortunately the safeguarding amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was not successful. If interested, you can read more here:
The reasons given by the minister for requesting the withdrawal of the amendment don’t seem to stack up for the following reasons:
1) The minister said that the Work and Pensions Select Committee report did not recommend that the safeguards should be put on a statutory basis. These are the relevant recommendations:
“Review of the legislative framework for sanctioning
20. Given the complexity of the existing legislation, there is a strong case for a review of the underpinning legislative framework for conditionality and sanctions, to ensure that the basis for sanctioning is clearly defined, and safeguards to protect vulnerable groups clearly set out. We recommend that the clarity and coherence of the legislative framework for benefit sanctions policy be included in the terms of reference of the full independent review which we have recommended. (Paragraph 112)
We call upon DWP also to review the programme of Core Visits as soon as possible, to clarify what changes to conditionality and the application of sanctions occur as a consequence of such Core Visits. (Paragraph 134)”
While the committee did not make explicit that they called for the introduction of the existing guidance I would argue it is safe to assume that that is what they meant given that they had the guidance (it was submitted to them by Disability Rights UK) and that they included a full section on ESA Safeguarding in their report (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmworpen/814/814.pdf) which quotes from the existing ESA safeguarding chapter (see sub reference 124 in the footnotes of page 42).
2) The minister also takes issue with defining vulnerability too closely. ESA safeguarding guidance already gives vulnerability has a tightly defined meaning. It defines vulnerability as someone with a mental health condition, learning disability or condition affecting cognition. This is the definition quoted on page 42 of the committee report. It is also the definition DWP continue to write into the guidance for Work Programme Providers (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/476639/wp-pg-chap-4b.pdf). It is true that their new vulnerability guidance does not use this definition but this is not the definition which is relevant for safeguarding claimants of ESA. It will become relevant for safeguarding claimants of Universal Credit who miss a Work Capability Assessment medical.
3) The minister states that the guidance is easily accessible. It was available in that location at the point at which the Chief Exec of Mind told the committee that he was not aware of core visit safeguards being followed at all (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmworpen/814/81409.htm#n130).
4) The minister states that the guidance is regularly reviewed. DWP appear to have recently watered down the Work Programme Provider guidance to make it significantly weaker (see http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/9051/). They also appear to have removed the section on core visits from the chapter it was previously in, we hope that they have not also watered this down significantly but will now have to make a new set of FOIs to try to track this down again. This emphasises the need for safeguards clearly set out in legislation rather than guidance.