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Benefits Campaign: the Story So Far

by John Mills, Liverpool City Council

(UPDATED STORY AWAITED)

March 9, 2000

LETS and Benefits Update

Report on House of Commons meeting with Linda Gilroy MP

by John Mills
The March 8 meeting with Linda Gilroy MP went well. Linda said that she had spoken to The Hon. Angela Eagle MP, Minister of Social Security in the week.

She suggested that something was being worked on regarding LETS as we speak and would very soon be announced and that we would be excited about it!

We raised the issue of mixed messages from various sources about what this announcement might be and suggested that written clarification should be sought and given to us ASAP regarding: -

exactly what new disregard levels may be

whether pilots are being considered (apparently they may not be)

how it would be far more helpful in the long run if any proposals are run past the working group first before any announcements were made (as Chris Hayes promised would happen) so that we have an opportunity to consult with Government about what may or may not work within this.

Linda Gilroy will be contacting Angela Eagle this week to spell out these concerns and to seek such a written response to them and hopefully reasure us that consultation between ourselves and Government will still take place before any announcements are made.

July 2000- LATEST ON LETS AND BENEFITS - New Early Day Motion in H of C
by John Mills
The Benefits campaign continues with the Treasury stating that "it will be working closely with the Department of Social Security to consider, in the light of the Budget measures, the case for acting further on recommendations, including on piloting benefit rule changes on LETS as part of the 2000 spending review".


We are trying to clarify more specifically what this might mean for LETS participants. Linda Gilroy is planning to hold an event for MP's to attend in the House to highlight the role of LETS in social inclusion followed by an adjournment debate in the House. This may happen sometime in July, further details to follow.
Linda has also tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 783): "That this House notes the conclusions of the report of the Policy Action Team on Jobs that Local Exchange Trading Schemes could offer the opportunity to acquire valuable work experience and demonstrate a work ethic to potential employers in the open labour market, but that despite these potentially positive outcomes, existing rules create barriers to participation; welcomes the report's recommendation that benefit entitlements should not in future be affected by participation in a LETS; and calls upon the Government to follow the report's recommendations to make the appropriate changes to benefit rules with a view to ensuring that LETS are able to play their full part in promoting social inclusion."
It is a matter of urgency for people to get their MPs to sign this motion in support. Should any further information become available I shall let you know.

The fear of the impact on Social Security Benefits is still preventing people from participating in LETS which is why benefits legislation change has been the major priority since 1996. LETSLINK Liverpool City Council and other concerned parties formed a National Benefits Working Group which has outlined proposals to Government to treat LETS credits as exempt income / earnings.

Government words

Government actions

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 The proposals can not be seen as a risky precedent as in the income support scheme alone there are currently 56 forms of income other than earnings that are disregarded and 15 sums to be disregarded from earnings. Under the proposal, claimants would still be required to remain available for work and / or to work for less than 16 hours a week, even on therapeutic grounds, to secure full entitlement to benefits. This proposal came after painstaking work in 1997 and was championed in 1998 by Linda Gilroy MP in a 10 minute rule bill.But what has happened since? Well, in November 1998 a delegation of the national benefits working group met with Angela Eagle MP the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Social Security.

This was the start of a wave of excitement for us as Angela described a "broad enthusiasm" in Government circles for LETS and Benefit changes with some traditional worries beginning to be overcome. Informed circles were beginning to say that 1999 was the year those benefit changes were going to happen. It was only a matter of time.In all the best disaster movies you are built up to believe that everything is under control and nothing can go wrong. And then of course they do. Chris Hayes the DSS Policy Manager who had visited my area in Liverpool as part of his nation-wide tour promising to return with workable proposals left his job for a promotion to Tony Blair's Office and when we tried to trace him recently he has mysteriously disappeared from Government's Central Computer! There are no sign of changes to guidance on how Benefit Agencies should treat LETS and LETS credits.

The Policy Action Team on Jobs that was due to report in July only published their findings just before last Christmas. Their recommendations are rather ambiguous and LETSLINK UK alongside Liverpool City Council and others have drafted a response to the report which hopefully will see some clarification into just what may happen regarding LETS and their effect on benefits.

I believe that a likely outcome is to aggregate current disregards over the year. This seems more likely considering Angela Eagle's report view that current benefits legislation does not need amending; only a change in its interpretation. [Contact:0151 233 6739, livlets@cybase.co.uk]

EXTRA: Another Early Day Motion planned

Local Exchange Trading Schemes and Social Exclusion -

Linda Gilroy, MP has drafted another EDM for the House of Commons

Westminister, March 8, 2000: That this House notes the conclusions of the report of the Policy Action Team on Jobs that Local Exchange Trading Systems could offer the opportunity to acquire valuable work experience and demonstrate a work ethic to potential employers in the open labour market; but that despite these potentially positive outcomes, existing benefit rules create barriers to participation; welcomes the report's recommendation that benefit entitlement should not in future be affected by participation in a LETS; and calls upon the Government to follow the report's recommendation that changes to benefit rules should be made with a view to ensuring that LETS are able to play their full part in promoting social inclusion.

She will contact us with any response and when a final draft of the above proposed EDM is posted in the Commons.

 

 

See also: GOVERNMENT SHOWS VISION

 

 

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