‘Cruel And Incompetent’: Iain Duncan Smith Forced To Admit Christmas ‘Benefits Bonus’ Blunder

DWP 'administrative error' left more than 300,000 sick and disabled people without their £10 'Christmas Bonus'.

Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen Smith MP, has accused the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of being “cruel and incompetent”, after at least 327,379 sick and disabled people were left without a £10 “Christmas Bonus”.

Benefits were originally calculated to meet only the basic costs of food, fuel and shelter. The Pensioners and Family Income Supplement Payments Act 1972 ensured that a Christmas Bonus of £10 is paid to the recipients of some benefits as a one-off payment.

The subsequent Pensioners’ Payments and Social Security Act of 1979 established the Bonus permanently, although the amount has never been uprated in line with rising prices and living costs.

The Government website describes the Christmas Bonus as a “one-off tax-free £10 payment made before Christmas, paid to people who get certain benefits in the qualifying week.”

Payments are usually made automatically in the first full week of December. However, the DWP has now admitted to an “administrative error” that left hundred of thousands of Employment and Support Allowance claimants without their Bonus.

Mr Owen Smith said: “They’ve [the DWP] now been forced to admit that 300,000 people went short because they couldn’t even manage to make a simple payment in time for the holidays.

“People have always known the Tories are cruel, but they used to think they were at least competent.

“Iain Duncan Smith seems to be having a good go at proving they’re both cruel and incompetent.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “All regular ESA payments were made on time over Christmas, with the majority of people receiving their additional Christmas seasonal payment on schedule.

“Due to an administrative error, a small minority may not receive their additional Christmas seasonal payment until the end of January.”

The DWP said that missed payments would be made before the end of January. However, some people have yet to receive it. How long does it take to fix an “administrative error”?

I can’t help but wonder about the reason presented by the DWP for the payment delays. I don’t believe the DWP is telling the truth.

I am a sick and disabled person who claims ESA. Having worked all of my life, and after being forced though illness to give up a job that I loved, I have to say that my standard of living has very drastically dropped, and I have experienced absolute poverty – times when I have not been able to meet even basic needs, such as keeping warm and eating adequately.

In 2012, a tribunal agreed with my decision to leave work on the grounds that my illness is now so severe that it presents unacceptable risks to myself and potentially, to others in the work environment, as I am no longer able to fulfill even the basic responsibilities that my work entailed.

I wasn’t paid the Christmas Bonus in 2012, 2013 and 2014. I rang the DWP in 2014, when I realised I was entitled to the payment. After being told twice that the money had been paid into my account and it hadn’t, in October 2015, I finally received the backdated payments. I got a bizarre letter explaining that whilst the DWP had said they had paid me, they hadn’t, which I already knew.

I received my Christmas Bonus for 2015 on 14 January. It seems to me that the DWP seldom pay the bonus unless you actually ask for it (several times) or unless an MP applies some ethical and rational pressure, as Owen Smith has done.

The government believe that any kind of welfare support creates perverse incentives for people not to work. There is no empirical evidence to support this claim. They also think that the general public are “cognitively incompetent,” drawing on the new paternalist behavioural economics (“nudge”) theoretical framework, their basic proposition is that we are fundamentally irrational and make faulty decisions that are founded entirely on our “cognitive biases.”

Of course the new army of self-appointed cognitive experts and nudgers exist outside the realms of their own universal theory of “human nature” and are thus exempted from nudges. Poor people who need financial support are not.

The Tories also claim that one of the problems of providing social security arises because we believe the resulting income gain from employment is not enough to compensate for the (increased) work effort.

However, the truly rational solution of course would be to raise the lowest wages, to provide a clear and positive “incentive” to work, when people are able. But instead the government have opted for a psychocratic, punitive approach, stigmatising those who are too ill to work.

They slash essential lifeline benefits to amounts that barely cover the cost of meeting basic survival needs, adding the perpetual threat of sanctions which entail the complete withdrawal of support for any perceived non-compliance.

The Tories ludicrously claim that this punitive approach, systematically withdrawing essential support and dismantling the welfare state is “making welfare fair”, “making work pay”, “helping people into work” and “supporting sick and disabled people”, indicating an Orwellian tendency to turn the meaning of ordinary words into a form of tyranny.

Sanctions are founded on and legitimised by claptrap and psychobabble that originated from the pseudoscientific ‘Behavioural Insights Team’. Perhaps the Tory Grudge Unit is a much more appropriate name for this mean and vindictive collection of neo-liberal cognitive supremacists and economic Darwinist’s.

In particular, sanctions are founded on a cognitive bias called “loss aversion”, which is being manipulated and turned into a big state stick to ensure that poor people are compliant with draconian benefit conditionality. “Loss aversion” is a nudge euphemism, which serves to instill a deep fear of destitution and starvation among the increasingly impoverished people who need to claim support from a system that most of them have paid into.

From the shrinking category of legitimate “disability”, to forcing people to work in insecure jobs for low wages or for no pay at all on exploitative work fare schemes, nudge is being used to prop up neoliberal ideology, social conservatism and to euphemistically frame punitive policies; “applying the principles of behavioural economics to the important issue of the transition from welfare to work.” See: Employing BELIEF:Applying behavioural economics to welfare to work and Nudging Conformity and Benefit Sanctions.

The steady drop in real wages since 2010, according to the Office for National Statistics, is the longest for 50 years. The fall in earnings under the Conservatives is the biggest in any parliament since 1880, according to analysis by the House of Commons Library. “Making work pay” for whom, we should ask.

The Tories have a strongly anti-welfare ideology, and they also advocate using the tools of behavioural economics to “incentivise” people to work, and further claim that social security encourages dependency. Nudge theorists have proposed that making people’s present more livable with any kind of “cash gifts” only amplifies the alleged cognitive tendency people have to overestimate the magnitude of immediate benefits relative to the more distant ones of working.

However, there’s no such thing as a “cycle of benefit dependency” – it’s a traditional Tory prejudice and is based on historically unevidenced myths. Poverty arises because of socioeconomic circumstances that are unmitigated through government decision-making. In fact this government has intentionally extended and perpetuated inequality through its policies.

It’s therefore easy to see how withholding the Christmas Bonus would be justified by government officials. Perhaps it was just another paternalist experimental “trial” aimed at nudging sick and disabled people into work. And, of course, it would be based entirely on the whopping cognitive biases and traditional prejudices of the Tories.

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