Thursday, 28 April 2011

'Sicknote Britain' yes or no?

According to one screaming tabloid headline today: "Blitz on benefits: 887,000 fiddlers exposed". Echoing stories in many of this morning's papers, the Daily Express says that three-quarters of Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants are "workshy spongers feigning serious disability". Shocking, if true.
But it isn't true.
pills on a prescription
The red-top press has worked itself up into a lather of indignation and fury over statistics that are variously described as evidence of "Britain's sicknote culture", "greedy skivers" and "benefit cheats". So, let's examine the facts. The source for all this is the latest batch of data from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on applications for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit introduced two-and-a-half years ago by the Labour government. Today's figures relate to the period between October 2008 and August 2010 - a time, for the most part of course, when Labour was in power.
The key point, though, it that these are new applicants - people applying to see if they might be eligible for additional financial support.
Some will be trying it on, knowing they are quite well enough to work but hoping to hoodwink the assessors into giving them sickness benefit. But I suspect many are simply individuals who don't want to miss out on a welfare payment to which they may be eligible. There is nothing 'dodgy' about seeing if you meet the criteria for something.
The DWP exhorts the public to ensure their full benefit entitlement. For instance, the department has regularly encouraged people to ensure they "don't miss out" on council tax benefit while the Mayor of London also has a scheme called "Know Your Rights".
So, it could be argued, that applicants for ESA are doing what they are told. Unsurprisingly, many people learn that under the tough new medical assessments, they do not qualify. Others, on realising that they have to undergo detailed checks, withdraw their application.
Are these people really workshy spongers? One can easily imagine someone who believes their depression or back pain has contributed to their unemployment and wanting to see if their condition entitles them to the slightly more generous payments under ESA than JSA (Jobseekers Allowance). That would seem to be common sense, not greed.
Government campaign image
Some newspapers, though, appear to have misunderstood the point. The Daily Express, for instance, says the figures "suggest that more than £4billion of taxpayers' money is wrongly paid out" to scroungers. But, of course, nothing has been paid out to any of the applicants because they are not yet receiving the benefit. Extrapolating the data from new applicants to those already receiving IB risks comparing apples and oranges because those in receipt of IB have already been through an assessment.
The government has just begun rolling out its programme for re-assessing existing IB claimants amid controversy over the fairness and accuracy of the medical checks, but it would be a surprise if the proportion deemed "fit to work" was anything like the 39% of new applicants who have not been previously assessed.
To recap then: the figures reflect the results of a Labour welfare reform for new applicants to a relatively new benefit. This has nothing to do with a coalition "blitz on benefit cheats" or a "government crackdown on welfare scroungers", however much Ministers would like to spin the stats. I would also note that today's stories bear an uncanny resemblance to reports six months ago on the previous tranche of ESA data which said almost exactly the same thing.
Far from providing evidence of sicknote Britain, the figures could be seen as evidence of citizens following government advice to ensure they "don't miss out".

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Ave ET payment = £4k

The CBI has described the employment tribunal system as slow, legalistic and antagonistic in its submission to the Government's consultation on reforms to the way that workplace disputes are resolved.
As such, the CBI insisted, the current set up for dealing with employee grievances is failing both employers and workers.
The business group said it wants to see a major overhaul of the system aimed at making the process faster, fairer and less costly.
Specifically, weak or vexatious claims should be sieved from the system so that valid claims get a quicker hearing.
Employees should be made aware of what they could achieve by taking an employer to tribunal in order to avoid unrealistic expectations. The average compensation paid out at tribunals is just £4,000, a long way from the hundreds of thousands that make the headlines in high profile sex discriminations cases.
There should also be a charge of a fee for lodging a claim so that only sensible complaints are brought forward. Such fees should be proportionate and refundable in those cases where the claim is upheld.
Another of the CBI's recommendations is that settlements should be encouraged at an early stage. In other words, a formal system for making offers to settle should be put in place.
Although compromise agreements, where an employer and employee negotiate a deal by mutual consent without going to tribunal, are fair, the CBI argued that the legal process surrounding them has become too complicated and expensive.
Lastly, the CBI said that the tribunals themselves must be made more efficient and consistent. One way of doing this would be to introduce tribunal league tables detailing how different regions and judges perform against set standards.
Katja Hall, the CBI's chief policy director, said: "It's always regrettable when the relationship between employer and employee breaks down to the point where a tribunal claim is made. But when this happens, both sides deserve a system that is consistent, quick and keeps legal costs to a minimum. Instead, we are saddled with a tribunal system that is expensive, stressful and time-consuming for all parties.
"Surely it's in everyone's interests for cases with merit to be heard quickly and settled, while weak claims are swiftly identified and weeded out. We'd like to see more workplace disputes being resolved before they reach tribunal."
Ms Hall added: "The tribunals system has gradually become a barrier to justice. Even where a successful outcome is likely, firms try to avoid the heavy costs and long delays. A programme of common sense reforms is long overdue. We need to see a transparent, fairer system built around the interests of legitimate claimants and responsible firms."
Thanks to Plummer Parsons for the copy.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

good and new news for Easter

43% of public-sector employers prepared to recruit this year

A recent survey suggests that, despite the deep cuts to public finances, more than two in five public-sector employers believe it won't be necessary to reduce their permanent headcount this year, and would indeed take on further staff if the workload justified it.
The poll, conducted by accountancy and finance recruitment specialist Hewitson Walker, also found that 86% of public-sector employers believe that savings can be made by reducing the number of external consultants used.
Although none of the respondents were looking to introduce RPO/managed recruitment models this year (probably as levels of recruitment would be unlikely to warrant programmes on such a scale), one in seven (14%) did suggest that it would be necessary to drive further cost efficiencies through a review or the introduction of a preferred suppliers' list.
Thanks Ri5