In the wake of a highly negative NI Public Service Ombudsman report, Capita’s managing director was questioned by the Communities Committee at Stormont about numerous incidents of serious failings in the 270,000 PIP assessments carried out by the company since 2016. He apologised to “anybody that has had a poor experience with Capita and been let down” but said that allegations from former staff that they had been set target approval and refusal rates for claims rather than making decisions based solely on evidence in individual cases, were an “urban myth”. More broadly, the Department for Work and Pensions was criticised by MPs for administrative failures around Universal Credit payments. PPR’s Sara Boyce posted a piece examining the role and record of Capita, including concerns flagged in a joint survey of frontline advice workers; in independent investigations by the NI Audit Office and the NI Public Service Ombudsman; and in media scrutiny.
The DFC confirmed that payments to protect over 600 families who would be otherwise charged the bedroom tax will be extended for a further three years and appointed an Independent Advisory Panel to review welfare mitigation measures, to report back in February 2022. In response to an Assembly member’s question (AQO 2836/17-22), the Communities Minister said that affected households currently deemed ineligible for a Benefit Cap mitigation payment lost an estimated £51 per week, while those deemed ineligible for Bedroom Tax mitigation payments lose an average of £10 per week.
NI press carried warnings from community organisations about the harsh impact of price increases and the cut to Universal Credit payments on people’s ability to cope this winter. In a positive development, the NI Executive was accredited by the Living Wage Foundation as a Living Wage employer. Currently, the Living Wage is £9.90 an hour, against the legal minimum wage of £8.91. In response to an Assembly member’s question (AQW 24943/17-22) the Communities Minister said that the latest figures (from May 2021) indicated that a total of 37,810 working people had been deemed eligible and were claiming Universal Credit.
UK government guidance on using its £500m temporary (4-month) Household Support Fund – announced the week it removed the £20/week uplift to Universal Credit – frequently advises participating councils to refer households in need to charity foodbanks. Critics said they should focus on creating an adequate social security system rather than institutionalising a voluntary emergency local response. Excluded UK, a grassroots organisation for people and businesses excluded from government’s Covid-19 financial support, reported a number of suicides amongst its members. It says more than three million people have fallen through the cracks in government Covid-19 support, with many relying on loans, handouts and foodbanks to survive. The Big Issue reported that cases of diseases like scurvy and rickets recorded in hospitals in England have more than doubled since 2010, while cases of malnutrition have more than tripled.
Carers UK issued survey findings showing that providing unpaid care – which has become more common with Covid-19, rising at one point to 13.6 million people – risks leaving many families in poverty. Nearly a quarter of respondents said that they could not cover their monthly costs, and over half reported mental health impacts.
A cross-party group of MPs wrote an open letter calling on the Home Office to urgently lift the ‘nonsensical’ ban on asylum seekers’ working and allowing them to do so after six months. The letter said, "the UK is currently an outlier in enforcing a 12 month wait period for work and then placing strong restrictions on which employment can be taken up, the UK would purely be introducing conditions akin to our European neighbours”.
A report by MPs and peers says monitoring worker performance using algorithmic tracking should be regulated by law.
“Pervasive monitoring and target-setting technologies, in particular, are associated with pronounced negative impacts on mental and physical wellbeing as workers experience the extreme pressure of constant, real-time micro-management and automated assessment,” said the APPG members in their report, the New Frontier: Artificial Intelligence at Work.
The APPG on the Future of Work has called for the introduction of an “accountability for algorithms act’” which would ensure that companies evaluate the effect of performance-driven regimes such as queue monitoring in supermarkets or deliveries-per-hour guidelines for delivery drivers.