Tagged: claimant commitment

‘Jobs Revival’ In Spotlight As Most Of Those Who Lose Benefits Fail To Find Work

Coalition claims that it has presided over a jobs revival have come under fresh scrutiny with research showing that as few as a fifth of the 2 million jobless people whose benefit has been taken away are known to have found work.

The research, due to be presented at a Commons select committee inquiry into welfare sanctions on Wednesday, suggests that hundreds of thousands are leaving Jobseeker’s Allowance because of benefit sanctions without finding employment, though the report’s authors decline to provide an exact figure.

Written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks.

Prof David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.

> No, what we need next is a stop to sanctions.  Then you can do all the cost-benefit analysis stuff, in the knowledge that your research is not being made obsolute by people continuing to be sanctioned every day.

“If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”

However, the Department for Work and Pensions, which is expected to hail a further rise in UK employment on Wednesday, countered that it was proud that 1 million jobless people were now subject to the “claimant commitment”, which sets out tougher requirements on the jobless to find work or risk losing their benefit payments.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said:

“It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.

> This would be the government support we paid into, via National Insurance, when we were working, right ?  So its our money, IDS, not yours.

“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit. It has created a real change in attitudes. Already more than a million people have signed up to – and are benefiting from – this new jobseeking regime.”

> What real-life employment contract does it mimic !?  The sort used for slaves on the old southern US plantations perhaps ?

The Oxford-based research showed that between June 2011 and March 2014, more than 1.9m sanctions were imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), with 43% of those sanctioned subsequently ceasing to try to claim the benefit. Only 20% of those who left gave as their stated reason that they had found work.

The Department for Work and Pensions conducts no systematic research into what happens to those sanctioned, so the new findings start to fill an evidential gap in what has been one of the biggest but least publicised changes to the welfare system since the government came to power.

The 1.9m benefit removals between June 2011 and March 2014 represent a 40% increase compared with the previous seven years. The figures are based on official monthly and quarterly data from databases covering UK local authorities between 2005 and 2014.

The highly emotive dispute about a central aspect of government welfare reform centres on whether jobcentre staff, driven by senior management, are following arbitrary and poorly communicated rules that punish not just the feckless but some of the most vulnerable in society, including mentally ill and disabled people. Many independent witnesses have urged the DWP inquiry at least to suspend the sanctions regime for those claiming employment support allowance, the main disability benefit .

Study author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, said:

“The data did not give us the full picture of why sanctioned people have stopped claiming unemployment benefit. We can say, however, that there was a large rise in the number of people leaving JSA for reasons that were not linked to employment in association with sanctioning. On this basis, it appears that the punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support.”

The study also shows widespread variation in how local authorities used sanctions. In Derby, Preston, Chorley and Southampton, researchers found particularly high rates of people being referred for sanctions. In some months, more than 10% of claimants in these areas were sanctioned – the highest rates nationwide.

Co-author Prof Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking at it not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefit, but also the bigger picture, focusing on employment, health, and other social costs.”

 “The coalition government has embarked upon an unprecedented experiment to reform social security. I hope policymakers will be informed by these findings and see the value of investigating the consequences.”

Separate evidence in front of the DWP select committee inquiry includes witness statements from former jobcentre staff suggesting senior management threaten staff if they do not take a harsh approach to claimants. There is also cumulative evidence that many of those sanctioned have little or no knowledge of why they are being punished.

The main union representing jobcentre staff, PCS – also due to give evidence on Wednesday to the select committee inquiry – suggests:

While there is considerable anecdotal evidence about the inappropriate use of sanctions, there is a lack of empirical evidence. We believe that DWP should publish a more detailed breakdown of sanctions, and specifically more detailed explanations as to why they were imposed. PCS’s survey of our adviser members showed that 61% had experienced pressure to refer claimants to sanctions where they believed it may be inappropriate to do so.”

DWP select committee inquiry member Debbie Abrahams said:

“This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people “off-flow”. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”

The government counters that its policies are turning the UK into the jobs factory of Europe, and dismisses the idea that the unemployment figures are being subverted by sanctions.

This article was written by Frances Perraudin and Patrick Wintour, for The Guardian on Tuesday 20th January 2015

Exposed: Jobcentre Benefit Sanctions Culture Revealed – Whistleblower

I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.

Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.

A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.

Performance expectations” serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for assessing employee performance. When a business and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).

CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced.

Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.

However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register.

Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.

Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since.

This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.

> Labour Party backbench revolt – there’s something you don’t hear nowadays… especially not on behalf of the unemployed.

In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today.

The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average.

In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.

The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.

The system was and can never be perfect, due to the ever-changing demands of ministers. However, I believe it is now failing many of the people it is intended to help and support, particularly the vulnerable. The support on offer is often insensitive to a claimant’s needs and many people are referred to multiple courses inappropriately at the tax papers’ expense.

To cite one example, an older claimant with arthritis (which Jobcentre Plus knew about) was referred by Jobcentre Plus to attend an unpaid work opportunity that entailed travelling on 3 buses for 90 minutes each way and then to spend up to 30 hours per week picking up cans.

It is, therefore hardly surprising that claimants find the current regime bewildering, frightening and confusing. The professionals, including claimant representatives, are frequently dismayed by the irrational and insensitive treatment our clients are subjected to by, Jobcentre Plus as well as the private contractors delivering the welfare programme.

The reason I initially became involved was due to my family and friends being hurt by the system; I felt I had to assist and things snowballed from there.

The current regime has led to my increasing anger and lack of confidence in the organisations administering the current welfare policies; the people I help feel the same. A number of vulnerable claimants I assist physically shake and/or perspire with fear when they cross the threshold of the Jobcentre or the Work Programme provider premises.

It must feel like a cruel game of Russian Roulette – “will I, won’t I get my benefit stopped today” and for those people who have had their benefit sanctioned wrongly for doing more than is required of them by law, their anxiety is further heightened.

In my view and from experience sanctions do not work; they create excessive anxiety, which is not conducive to productive job search. When I assist a claimant achieve a more relaxed agreement and fairer treatment, they tell me they feel less stressed and undertake more productive and quality job search; many with several disadvantages have found work.

Furthermore, there is a shortage of sufficient and suitable employment opportunities available for everyone. Therefore, a proportion of the population will be unemployed at any given time and no government has successfully eradicated this problem, despite the billions of pounds that has been spent trying to tackle this particular issue.

This leads me to conclude, that most people will take responsibility for their own affairs and require little intervention from the state.

I believe the cost of poverty and administering the sanctioning machine is a further drain on the public purse, due to the wider impact on society; the associated crime such as food theft, increasing debt plus child poverty.

The additional cost to service providers must be taken into consideration too, namely; social services, welfare/debt agencies, food banks, schools, the police, HMCS and the NHS who must pick up the pieces. A number of claimants I help feel suicidal and there has been a recent death reported in the media as the consequence of sanctions being applied.

I am shocked by the very poor treatment of vulnerable claimants. However, more recently I have been assisting professionals who have been sanctioned repeatedly without any justification; these cases have been overturned because the decision was unlawful and/or natural justice, human rights as well as EU law were not applied in many cases.

Other welfare workers mirror my concerns; some of these issues may be addressed by the Mathew Oakley review, but in the absence of the immediate removal of sanctions altogether the process as a whole needs to be examined and in particular the quality and accuracy of decision-making. Examples of poor as well as perverse decision-making are littered all over the Internet by MPs and welfare agencies.

DWP has a duty to get their decisions right first time (pdf) and this must start at the coal face by, the adviser preparing a reasonable and lawful agreement and establishing all the facts fully before raising a doubt. The evidence I have collected indicates that Jobcentre staff and Decision Makers’ fail to follow their internal quality and training manuals too frequently.

“Things done well and with care, exempt themselves from fear.” William Shakespeare

Discretion must also be applied for those claimants who are clearly vulnerable and/or are not wilfully refusing or failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

A client agreed to a Jobseeker’s Agreement (re-named Claimant Commitment) that required them to take 9 steps to seek work; they took more than 40 quality steps, but a sanction was still applied.

Clients have had their benefit stopped indefinitely on the basis that they were not available for work due to the withdrawal of their telephone number and email address from the Jobcentre computer system.

There is no requirement in legislation to provide a telephone number or email address to Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme to prove availability for work. I have since discovered via Freedom of Information, that this is happening in more than one area.

Claimants are being informed by some Jobcentres and Work Programme providers that everything is mandatory and they are being directed indiscriminately to carry out all activities under a threat of a sanction.

Some claimants are also being mandated to give access to their Universal Jobmatch account or to provide their login details; this is unlawful.

Mandates for non-mandatory activities were only ever issued as a very last resort.

A 57-year-old client who has worked all her life recently told me; “she feels Jobcentre Plus treats her like a school child who cannot be trusted to do her homework without the threat of a severe punishment.” This oppressive regime will not inspire or motivate her to find work more quickly, but it does make her feel angry, stressed and humiliated.

It appears that respect, fairness, reasonableness as well as proportionality have been thrown right out of the window.

The public are told that claimants can access the Hardship fund, but this is not accessible to everyone and many claimants are not made aware of it, because they are not issued with the appropriate paperwork or even told their benefit has been stopped.

If a four-week sanction is applied, most claimants who are over 25 year of age* and not in a vulnerable group (people with health issues, children or expectant mothers) will have nothing to live on for 2 weeks and then only circa £43 for the remainder of the sanction period. This money must cover all their bills, food and travel costs to the Jobcentre, which can exceed £5 in many areas; it simply is not possible.

* JSA rate £72.40 for claimants 25 years and over, £57.35 for 18-24 year olds.

The consequences are several fold; debt which may lead to high interest lending and/or theft not to mention the physical and mental impacts that can significantly affect a person’s ability to seek work effectively or to find the energy or confidence to appeal.

Who would decide to inflict this pain upon themselves, let alone others?

I am also aware some claimants are not receiving travel expenses on their non-signing days, which creates further hardship and more so if they are being forced unreasonably to attend the Jobcentre daily.

These are typical remarks that I read and hear in the course of my voluntary activities to assist claimants:

I am poverty-stricken. I have no electricity; food and no friends or family close by, can you assist me?”

“I was sanctioned for not doing enough job searches even though I have been told my job search activity is good.”

“I am being forced to participate in an activity that does not support me back to work and makes my health condition worse, but Jobcentre Plus/the private contractor refuses to listen to me.”

There are some good people administering the welfare system, but I believe from the available public evidence that they are being placed under pressure (reference: PCS conditionality questionnaire) to implement the very harsh conditionality regime and, as a consequence a perverse culture is cultivated.

A personal Freedom of Information request can reveal improper behaviour. Further, there are several research papers that counter the government’s view about the effectiveness of benefit sanctions.

Poor treatment and service can also result in Jobseekers claiming sickness benefit (Employment Support Allowance) to escape the stress of attending the Jobcentre or the private contracted provision; this outcome is classified as a positive off-flow and during the period of a sanction Jobseekers are not counted as unemployed, because they are not in receipt of

I would urge all claimants to appeal every sanction and make a complaint to their MP at the same time about their poor treatment. I would also urge the unemployed, the sick, low paid and the agencies that witness first-hand what is happening to come together to stop this merciless treatment.

British people are in the main, compassionate and civilised. I also believe most people would be as horrified as I am if, they witnessed first-hand the consequences of the punitive measures being meted out to fellow citizens in order to attain performance measures and/or to frustrate people off the unemployment register.

When I talk to people about welfare many people are in favour of the government’s tougher stance via enhanced conditionality.

However, when I explain how the welfare policy is being administered and the human impacts, they are shocked.

I also find it very distressing that poverty related diseases are also on the rise in the UK, placing further pressure on the NHS. I am sure many readers of this story will be equally disturbed by these findings.

The UK ‘is the first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations‘.

I am not politically motivated and made a conscious decision not to vote in the past 2 elections. I am simply a very concerned UK citizen who is struggling to comprehend why fellow human beings are being treated so appallingly and why the gap between the haves and have-nots is continuing to widen. The current regime simply cannot be allowed to continue in a society which claims to care for the welfare of all its’ citizens.

It makes me want to weep the depths which have been plunged. The increasing volume of very poor quality decisions made by local Jobcentre staff and DWP Decision Makers’ is of great concern.

If everyone appealed and complained many more sanctions would be overturned, thus making their very existence unjustifiable.

> I agree wholeheartedly with that last sentiment. It’s not always easy, barriers will be put in your way, but from personal experience the mere fact of winning an appeal against an unjust decision is a real boost.

Sender has requested anonymity.

Source –  Welfare News Service,  02 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/exposed-jobcentre-benefit-sanctions-culture-revealed-whistleblower/

More Jobseeker’s Allowance Claimants Subject To Benefit Sanctions

> Something to bear in mind in the light of today’s claims that unemployment is falling.  The number of people claiming JSA might be falling… but not necesserily because they’ve found work.

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th May 2014

 The number of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants who were subject to a benefit sanction rose to 227,629 in the last three months of 2013, an increase of 69,600 on the equivalent quarter in 2012.

 In total, 870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit in 2013 due to a failure to meet Jobcentre Plus requirements to make themselves available for work.

 In October alone a total of 88,489 were subject to adverse decisions, a record number of sanctions for a single month since the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) started compiling the figures.

 The figures released on Wednesday alongside the labour market statistics also show an additional 530,957 JSA claimants were referred for a sanction throughout 2013, but the adjudicator rejected the proposed sanction. A further 95,400 decisions were reserved and nearly 500,000 referrals were cancelled.

 Across Britain between October 2012 and December 2013 just over 1 million people have been subject to an adverse sanction, 633,000 were allowed to keep their benefit after a referral and 580,273 has a referral cancelled. The DWP introduced a more demanding claimant commitment regime in October 2012.

 The government made no comment on the figures and produced no accompanying analysis of the figures, although the new sanctions regime represent some of the most important welfare reforms the government has introduced.

> Well, there’s a suprise…

 Ministers argue it is vital they do not repeat the mistakes of the 1980s recession when hundreds of thousands were allowed to stay on incapacity benefit without any serious effort keep them close to the labour market.

> Mistakes ? Wasn’t putting people on incapacity benefit  just another Thatcherite fiddle to reduce the unemployment figures ? 

 Critics claim the regime is punitive and some jobcentres effectively are given targets to sanction a proportion of claimants. Jobcentre managers acknowledge they have management information on the proportion of claimants who are being sanctioned, and questions can be raised if a jobcentre is out of line with other jobcentres. They insist they are no targets.

 Between October 2012 and December 2013 the number of lower-level adverse decisions for JSA claimants were 550,033, a further 388,324 were intermediate and just under 90,000 were the most serious sanctions. A first offence for a lower-level sanction can lead to loss of benefit for a month. A second failure at this level of offence leads to loss of benefit for 13 weeks.

 The bulk of those subject to intermediate sanctions were found not to be actively seeking work, and those subject to a low-level sanction were found to be failing to participate in the government work programme.

 Since the new regime was introduced more than 120,000 of those JSA claimants subject to an adverse decision were classified as disabled.

 The number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants subject to adverse decisions is also steadily rising albeit at much lower levels. The number of ESA claimants subject to a sanction in December 2013 was 4,879, mainly due to a failure to attend an interview.

 The DWP work services director, Neil Couling, told the Scottish parliament welfare select committee in April that: “My experience is that many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that a sanction can give them. Indeed, I have evidence – which I can share with the committee if members want it – of some very positive outcomes from just those kinds of tough conversations. They are tough conversations to have on the jobcentre side, as well as for the claimants.

 “Some people no doubt react very badly to being sanctioned – we see some very strong reactions – but others recognise that it is the wake-up call that they needed, and it helps them get back into work.”

> Or into a life of crime,  a life on the streets or out of life altogether…

 He said the essence of the DWP approach is managing to encourage, support and move people through the different attitudinal groups into the determined seekers’ group.

> And that means what exactly ?

 He conceded the numbers being sanctioned had risen but said it was too early to say if this was a trend. He argued that any rise in sanctions may be due to a rise in the numbers of times the unemployed can be called to a jobcentre. He said: “The chances of having a sanction in the course of interaction with the state organisation are going up, so there might well be an increase in the numbers. However, that is not an outcome that we are driving towards.”

 Couling also said the rise in use of food banks was due to an increase in supply rather than an increase in demand due to the rise in sanctions. He said: “If somebody is sanctioned, they will have no benefit income for the period of the sanction unless they claim for hardship, so those individuals will present to food banks. In fact, there have been sanctions in the benefits system since it started.”

> The man’s a moron – unfortunately he’s a moron in a position of power.

Source – Welfare News Service  – 14 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/jobseekers-allowance-claimants-subject-benefit-sanctions/

‘Shoestring Army’ to battle government-imposed ‘slavery’ in the courts

Vox Political

Energising: Keith Lindsay-Cameron prepares to take his case to the police. Energising: Keith Lindsay-Cameron prepares to take his case to the police.

An activist from Somerset is raising his own ‘Shoestring Army’ to crowdsource funds and mount a legal challenge against the government’s new Claimant Commitment for jobseekers, after police said they were unable to arrest Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud for breaching the Human Rights Act.

Keith Lindsay-Cameron, of Peasedown St John, near Bath, was advised to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a legal challenge in the courts after he made his complaint at Bath police station on Friday (May 2).

He said the conditionality regime that is part of the new Claimant Commitment will re-cast the relationship between the citizen and the State – from one centred on ‘entitlement’ to one centred on a contractual concept in which the government provides a range of support only if a claimant meets an explicit set of responsibilities…

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No Relationship Between Benefit Sanctions And Food Banks, Say DWP

 Department For Work And Pensions Director, Neil Couling, has claimed that there is no relationship between the increased used of benefit sanctions against unemployed jobseeker’s and the rising number of people turning to food banks.

According to the Scottish National Party (SNP), the claim was made during a Scottish Welfare Reform Committee session, where Mr Couling was standing in for the conservative Employment Minister, Esther McVey MP.

The SNP also claim that Mr Couling ‘took issue’ with existing evidence showing there has been a 209 per cent increase in the number of sanctions handed out against benefit claimants in Scotland since 2006, and Mr Couling joked that sanctioned benefit claimants were bringing ‘Thank You’ cards to his office.

Figures suggest that the number of instances where a benefit claimants has had their benefits cut or stopped completely, as a result of having their benefits sanctioned, more than tripled between 2006 – 2013, from 25,953 to 80,305.

 The coalition government toughened the existing benefit sanction regime in 2012 and has recently introduced the ‘Claimant Commitment‘. Charities fear this could increase the number of sanctions being dished out against unemployed jobseeker’s even further.

Under the new system benefit claimants who fail to adhere to tough new requirements could find their payments being docked for four weeks, increasing to up to three years for repeat offenders.

A growing number of politicians, charities and benefit claimants themselves are drawing attention to instances where unemployed people have had their benefits slashed for long periods inappropriately.

These include not applying for enough jobs in a single week, even though the unemployed person has evidence that they had applied for dozens of job vacancies, as well as instances where jobseeker’s have had their benefits sanctioned for failing to turn up to a jobcentre appointment, despite having informed their adviser that they were attending a hospital appointment or the funeral of a family member.

Speaking after the committee session at the Scottish Parliament, Kevin Stewart MSP said:

“Mr Couling should visit the food banks in Scotland to speak to the people who have had their welfare benefits sanctioned and now face huge difficulties feeding themselves and their families.

“Perhaps if Mr Couling listened to the expert evidence the committee heard today from the Head of Policy at Barnardo’s Scotland; Citizens Advice Scotland; the Head of Oxfam Scotland and others including Dr John Ip, GP of the British Medical Association, then he might have had a better understanding of the reality of the situation.

“Mr Couling may have been joking when he claimed that Welfare sanctions were bringing  ‘Thank-you’ cards from benefits claimants to his office but there is nothing funny about people who have to line up in order to receive vital food parcels for their hungry children.

“Amidst Mr Couling’s contradictory claims he did concede that ‘the chances of having a sanction is going up’ and that is the grim reality of people unable to find work – which means they have no income and are forced to use food banks.

“As Labour MSP Ken Macintosh pointed out, the Scottish Government has indeed given a further £1million towards food banks – but as Mark Ballard from Barnardo’s highlighted, the Scottish Government hasn’t the powers to totally mitigate the harmful Westminster benefit cuts.

“Instead of people in Scotland being forced to rely upon a Westminster welfare system that is being aggressively cut and sanctioning thousands people who need support, we need a system that truly reflects Scotland’s values.

“With the powers of an independent Scotland we can build that kind of system and ensure that the priorities of people in Scotland are truly reflected in our welfare system.

“It is only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum that will secure that opportunity for Scotland and restore people’s faith that they will receive the support they need from the rest of society when they are facing difficult times.”

Source – Welfare News Service    30 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/relationship-benefit-sanctions-food-banks-say-dwp/

635,000 Sign New ‘JSA Claimant Commitment’ As Arbitrary Sanctions Continue To Hit Jobless

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and collated from the Labour Market System (LMS), show that a total of 635,000 jobseeker’s signed the new Claimant Commitment pledge between 14 October 2013 and 11 April 2014.

The Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) Claimant Commitment was launched by the coalition government in October 2013 and described as “the start of a redefinition of the relationship between the welfare state and claimants”, by the then Employment Minister Esther McVey.

Under the new regime jobseeker’s are required to sign a claimant commitment, or work plan, to “agree regular specific tasks and training opportunities and the penalties claimants could face for failing to meet their responsibilities to get into work will be clearly spelt out”.

These ‘tasks’ could include agreeing to apply for a certain number of jobs each week, taking part in ‘training opportunities’, furthering their education and other ‘tasks’ set out in a personal work plan.

The DWP say that a total of 26,300 Jobcentre staff have been trained to deliver the new JSA Claimant Commitment with the majority of those being in central England and London area’s.

Unemployed people on Universal Credit are also required to sign a claimant commitment as a means of supporting them back into work ‘at the earliest opportunity’.

The new JSA Claimant Commitment has been partly blamed for a shocking 60 per cent rise in the number of jobseeker’s having their benefits sanctioned; where a claimant can see their benefits cut or stopped completely for weeks, months or even years for failure to adhere to the jobseeker’s agreement.

Far from helping unemployed people back into work, the Citizens Advice Bureau say benefit sanctions can create  barrier to employment.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:

“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment.

“Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.”

> I do wish people like the CAB would remember that everyone receiving benefits is also a taxpayer – be it Council Tax, Bedroom Tax, or VAT, being on benefits does not exempt anyone from paying taxes.

Young people have been hit particularly hard by the new JSA Claimant Commitment and subsequent benefit sanctions.

Despite only making up 27 per cent of all JSA claimants, young people have received 43 per cent of all benefit sanctions dished out by sometimes overzealous Jobcentre staff.

Perhaps even more shocking are the DWP statistics which show 38,969 of these decisions were later overturned following an appeal.

Many jobseeker’s, particularly young people, say they do not understand why their benefits were sanctioned, despite having signed the JSA Claimant Commitment.

Some sanctions have been for what most people would regard as ridiculous reasons: such as failing to turn up for a Jobcentre appointment despite already informing staff that they were attending a job interview.

Benefit sanctions, and the JSA Claimant Commitment, have also been blamed for a 163 per cent surge in the number of people turning to food banks in the past year.

Around 31 per cent of those who had been referred for food parcels from the Trussell Trust say their benefit payments had been delayed, mainly due the draconian sanctions regime introduced by the coalition government.

The Trussell Trust Chairman, Chris Mould, said:

“In the last year we’ve seen things get worse, rather than better, for many people on low-incomes. It’s been extremely tough for a lot of people, with parents not eating properly in order to feed their children and more people than ever experiencing seemingly unfair and harsh benefits sanctions.

“Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.

A more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions in particular, increasing the minimum wage, introducing the living wage and looking at other measures such as social tariffs for essentials like energy would help to address the problem of UK hunger.”

Source – Welfare News Service  24 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/635000-sign-new-jsa-claimant-commitment-as-arbitrary-sanctions-continue-to-hit-jobless/

Record Number Of Sanctions Made Against Benefits Claimants In 2013

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th February 2014

The total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996.

The figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions cover employment support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

The number of JSA sanctions in the year to 30 September 2013 was 874,850, the highest since JSA was introduced in 1996. It compares with 500,000 in the year to 30 April 2010, the last month of the previous Labour government.

In the year to 30 September 2013 there were also 22,840 sanctions imposed on claimants of ESA – the chief benefit for the sick and disabled – in the work-related activity group. This is the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced for such claimants in October 2008.

The figures are derived from the latest quarterly set of sanctions totals published by the DWP.

The large numbers come before the government introduces its tougher claimant commitment that will require claimants to do more to prove they are actively seeking work.

Asked if an excessively punitive approach to sanctions claimants had contributed to the latest fall in unemployment, Esther McVey, the employment minister, said the DWP had brought the same clarity of requirements to those out of work that applies to those in work.

Critics, including members of the work and pensions select committee, will claim those on ESA and JSA are likely to be more vulnerable and chaotic than those in work. There is also criticism from charities about the way in which sanctions are administered and communicated.

The archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has also suggested something has gone wrong with the welfare state, prompting David Cameron to restate the moral case for his reforms.

Ministers have set up an external inquiry into how sanctions decisions are communicated to claimants, which is due to be published next month.

Analysis produced by Professor David Webster at Glasgow University of the latest set of statistics shows in the year to 30 September 2013, JSA claims were being sanctioned at the rate of 5.11% a month, and in the three months to 30 September 2013 at a rate of 6.00% a month. These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996.

Over the whole period of the coalition government, JSA sanctions have run at 4.42% of JSA claimants a month. This compares with approximately 2.46% during the Labour government from May 1997 to April 2010.

In the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013 (a period of 49 weeks), 527,574 individuals received a sanction. The highest published number for any 52-week period was 528,700 in the financial year 2010/11.

The figures also show a large increase in sanction activity. A total of 560,371 decisions were taken in three months to September, of which 236,786 were adverse and led to some kind of benefit withdrawal, a further 157, 633 were non-adverse and 138,554 were cancelled.

The number of decisions is up from 513,327 in the same three months of 2012 when 217,871 were adverse and 137,713 were non-adverse.

This represents a doubling of sanctioning activity since the last full year of the Labour government. In the same three months of 2009 121,584 adverse decisions were taken and the total number of decisions was 237,622, less than half the activity of the same period in 2013.

Source – Welfare News Service   19 Feb 2014