This article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 5th May 2014
Jobseekers face losing their benefits for three months or more if they refuse to take zero-hours contract roles, a letter from a Conservative minister has revealed.
For the first time, benefit claimants are at risk of sanctions if they do not apply for and accept certain zero-hours jobs under the new universal credit system, despite fears that such contracts are increasingly tying workers into insecure and low paid employment.
More than one in 10 employers are using such contracts, which are most likely to be offered to women, young people and people over 65. The figure rises to almost half of all employers in the tourism, catering and food sector.
Currently, people claiming jobseekers’ allowance are not required to apply for zero-hours contract vacancies and they do not face penalties for turning them down.
However, the change in policy under universal credit was revealed in a letter from Esther McVey, an employment minister, to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, who had raised the issue of sanctions with her.
The senior Tory confirmed that, under the new system, JobCentre “coaches” would be able to “mandate to zero-hours contracts”, although they would have discretion about considering whether a role was suitable.
> Oh well, that’s all right then. We can rest assured that the fact that they’re chasing targets and bonuses wont affect their judgement as to whether a role is suitable.
Quite obviously, if a job doesn’t guarantee a weekly income, its suitable to very few people indeed – mainly people who don’t eat or have bills to pay presumably…
Separately, a response to a freedom of information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published on its website reveals: “We expect claimants to do all they reasonably can to look for and move into paid work. If a claimant turns down a particular vacancy (including zero-hours contract jobs) a sanction may be applied, but we will look into the circumstances of the case and consider whether they had a good reason.”
Higher level sanctions – imposed if a jobseeker refuses to take a position without good reason or leaves a position voluntarily – will lead to a loss of benefits for 13 weeks on the first occasion, 26 weeks on the second occasion and 156 weeks on the third occasion.
Asked about the issue by the Guardian, the DWP said jobseekers would not be required to take a zero-hours contract that tied them in exclusively to work for a single employer. The government is already consulting on whether to ban this type of contract altogether.
The change has been made possible because universal credit will automatically adjust the level of benefits someone receives depending on the number of hours they work. This means claimants should not face periods without the correct benefits when their earnings fluctuate or they change job.
> Universal Credit still does not work. It may never work, judging by its progress so far. Why would anyone trust it to “simplify” the system ?
However, critics raised concerns that the new policy will force people into uncertain employment and restrict the ability of claimants to seek better work while still placing a burden on many to increase their hours.
Sheila Gilmore said she was concerned about the situation because JobCentre decision makers already do not appear to be exercising enough discretion before applying sanctions under the old regime.
“While I don’t object to the principle of either universal credit or zero-hours contracts, I am concerned about this policy change,” she said.
“I also fear that if people are required to take jobs with zero-hours contracts, they could be prevented from taking training courses or applying for other jobs that might lead to more stable and sustainable employment in the long term.”
> Oh, I see. She’s not against the principle of either universal credit or zero-hours contracts, just that it might prevent someone taking part (for which read : being made to take part under threat of sanctions) some other pointless “training” course. Labour – the people’s friend…
Andy Sawford, a shadow minister who has pushed for reforms of the contracts with his zero-hours bill in parliament, also expressed concern about the change, as universal credit will require many people on low hours to try to increase their work. Those below a “conditionality earnings threshold” – normally 35 hours at the minimum wage – may be asked to “carry out relevant actions” to raise their earnings, or again face sanctions.
“How can you commit to training, undertake a proper job search or agree to participate in interviews when you are on a zero-hours contract and may be required to work at any time?” Sawford said.
“Requiring people to take zero-hour jobs is a big change from the past. It will create further insecurity for many of the lowest paid people.”
Labour has promised to crack down on abuses of zero-hours contracts, with leader Ed Miliband saying their use has reached “epidemic” proportions in some industries. He wants to see workers with irregular shifts and pay getting a contract with fixed hours if they have worked regularly for the same employer for a year.
The TUC has also expressed worry that they are “no longer confined to the fringe of the job market”.
A spokesman for the DWP said: “As now, if there’s a good reason someone can’t just take a particular job they won’t be sanctioned. But it is right that people do everything they can to find work and that we support them to build up their working hours and earnings. The average zero-hours contract provides 25 hours of work a week – and can lead to long-term opportunities.
“Universal credit payments will adjust automatically depending on the hours a person works to ensure that people whose hours may change are financially supported and do not face the hassle and bureaucracy of switching their benefit claims.”
> We don’t believe you…
Source – Welfare News Service 06 May 2014
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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> Received via email…
I am a keen follower of your blog and thought you may be interested in this
*I have recently helped a Jobseeker (I’ll call him John) to win an appeal
at the First Tier Tribunal after his benefit was stopped for allegedly
failing to ‘actively seek’ work*.
*About me *
I am a semi-retired business woman and I initially got involved in helping
benefit claimants due the significant and negative impacts of the new
Welfare reforms on some of my family and friends. My deep concern led to offering my services as a volunteer at the CAB and now as a ‘Welfare
Champion’ on a part-time basis. I do this work mainly on a private basis
and receive referrals from various sources. I could not cope with lots of
readers contacting me (I am easily traceable), so for this reason I will
refer to myself as ‘Mary’.
John has worked from the age of 15 and for over 24 years with a few short
breaks, so no-one could ever describe him as a “skiver” or a “shirker”.
However, due to the economic downturn he found himself unemployed for
longer than expected and could no longer afford to run his car; regretfully
he has had to turn down a number of job offers due to the lack of transport.
> I’ve noticed an increasing number of vacancies – usually shiftwork – require the applicant to have their own transport.
At the beginning of 2013 a new Jobseeker Agreement was imposed on John; it required him to take at least 14 steps to look for work – it previously stated 3 as per the current legislation. It also required him to seek work on-line 7 days per week and to register with the DWP Universal Jobmatch site, which incidentally is not mandatory, nor is it a condition for receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance despite what Jobcentre Advisers might tell claimants.
*Jobcentre errors in law and procedure!*
John took 10 strong steps, which included applying for 4-5 jobs to help him
secure employment each week during the period in doubt, but the Jobcentre thought this was not good enough and his benefit was stopped for 4 weeks!
From my experience unless a claimant fulfils every detail of their
agreement the majority will be sanctioned. This is wrong, both legally as
well as procedurally! In this particular case I uncovered numerous
procedural, policy as well as legal mistakes.
*The impact of the Jobcentres mistakes!*
John was completely stunned and bewildered by the sanction; the impact was immediate and significant. He had no money and was unable to source a food parcel or any assistance from Social Services, so he was completely
destitute for 2 weeks.
The regulations do not allow access to an immediate hardship payment if you are not in a vulnerable group I.e., you are sick or, have dependent
children. The hardship payment he received after 2 weeks was £43.02pw (his usual payment is £71.70pw) for the remainder of the sanction period.
He was already struggling financially and feeling low due to being unemployed for over a year and Christmas was on the horizon. Those feelings darkened and he felt suicidal at times, due to his mistreatment by Jobcentre Plus.
He could not pay his bills or afford to eat properly and he certainly could
not afford to buy his children any Christmas gifts.
And, to this day he has still not recovered from the loss of his benefits
(his arrears are pending). The sanction has not made him any more
motivated than he was previously; it has just made him very angry and
mistrustful of Jobcentre Staff, hence the reason he was keen to help others
by sharing this story.
*Sanctions are only used as a last resort!*
The government keeps claiming sanctions are only applied as last resort and if a Jobseeker wilfully does not to keep to their side of the bargain (the
Jobseeker’s Agreement). This certainly is not true in John’s case, so what
is the real reason for the sanction….performance expectations (targets to
you or I), reducing the unemployment count, saving money or all 3?
*Jobseekers being set up to fail by Jobcentre Plus!*
An ex DWP employee has confirmed:
“But the truth is that benefit claimants are being deliberately set up to
fail in order to achieve sanction quotas without regard for natural justice
or their welfare . Staff are being asked to behave in a manner that is against the department’s values of integrity and honesty.”
Suspected criminals are treated more fairly in this country than the sick
and the unemployed; they are innocent until found guilty, receive swift and
free legal assistance, a bed, food, water and a roof over their heads.
In my view all these sanctions are unjustifiable and certainly do not match
the offence. A low level sanction of 4 weeks sanction incurs a c£200
penalty for people over 25 years of age like John, who is already living
well below the bread line according the EU
A speeding ticket is £60 to people who can generally afford to run a car
and the offender is given time to challenge the penalty *before* it is
*What the law says…. *
The *duty to actively seek work* *is not to be found in the job seekers
agreement* but in S7 of the jobseeker’s Act. S7(1), which provides:
*“a person is actively seeking work if he takes in that week such steps as
he could reasonably be expected to have to take in order to have the best
prospects of securing employment.”*
More detail is set out in regulation 18 of the Regulations. Regulation
18(1) provides that:
*”… a person shall be expected to have to take more than two steps in any
week unless taking one or two steps is all that is reasonable for that
person to do in that week.”*
Mr Commissioner Williams held at para 10 & 14 of CJSA/1814/2007 (case law)
*”**That is illustrated by this appeal. C was required by his Agreement to
take 6 steps each week and several other steps from time to time. That is
clearly more steps than the regulation requires of him to meet the test of
“actively seeking work”. And it is more steps than the Agreement asked him to record. On the facts, the secretary of state’s representative now
accepts that C took four steps in the week and that those four steps met
the test in section 7(1).”*
*”Further, there is nothing in the Act or the Regulations requiring that a
claimant must comply with everything in the Agreement. The reverse is the case. The agreement must comply with the law. To be valid, a jobseeker’s agreement must comply “with the prescribed regulations in force”: section 9(1) of the Act. The pattern of the legislation is that a jobseeker’s agreement must comply with the test of actively seeking work in sections 1(2)(c) and 7 of the Act and regulation 18 of the Regulations and not the other way round.”*
*The Outcome of this case – Success!*
Using this piece of case law the appeal was allowed, because the judge
determined John (the appellant) was actively seeking work as per section 7
of the Jobseeker’ Act 1995 and he took *significantly more than 2 steps to
in order to have the best prospects of seeking work *(Reg. 18 JSA Regs
*What does this outcome mean?*
This result confirms that Jobseeker Allowance claimants are unwittingly
agreeing to unreasonable, thus unlawful Jobseeker Agreements (soon to
become JSA Claimant Commitments) and, as a result 1000s are being
*However, this achievement is a hollow victory for the thousands of
Jobseekers expected to comply with their Jobseeker’s Agreements.*
This Tribunal ruling does not set a precedent for DWP to follow. As far as
DWP are concerned “it will be business as usual“. DWP’s position will
remain that if an individual claimant wishes to challenge their Jobseekers
Agreements on the basis of this Tribunal ruling they will have to jump
through all the various hoops.
Most will decide it is not worth their while and I know from my own experiences how difficult it can be. Further, the claimant must have the capacity to do so (many claimants are vulnerable) and they must also know that their Jobseekers Agreement is unlawful. The majority will not and as for the handful of claimants that do, DWP will cope with these people.
*What we appear to be dealing with here is, maladministration by the DWP on a grand scale affecting 1000s of individuals. *
*What can people do?*
I would strongly urge those who have been affected to get in touch
with their MP to raise this important issue.
And, you *must* appeal.
*Read the recent news reports about unfair sanctions….*
“70,000 job seekers’ benefits withdrawn unfairly, says think-tank”
*I believe it is significantly higher.*
*Rising rates of successful appeals have been seen as a sign that the
system for penalising those deemed to have broken job-seeker agreements is flawed.*
> Thanks, Mary. My own Jobseeker Agreement battles are chronicled on this blog (Jobseekers Agreement section) but need updating. I’m a bit behind because some of the things that have been happening need unravelling and making sense of – I start to think that every individual DWP worker has their own set of rules !
But suffice to say, I’ve been fighting my corner for 4 months now, still haven’t been sanctioned and am now on my second adviser – I’m wearing them down slowly.
Mary has provided more ammo here, some that I shall certainly being firing in the next battle. And I agree that everyone who can appeal, should – after all, what have you got to lose, and if nothing else you’ll help stretch the system a little nearer to breaking point.
“Anyone considered a worker under the law should be paid at least the minimum wage, whether they are an intern, or someone on work experience.”
Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson MP
The Government job-seeking website Universal Jobmatch is still littered with illegal unpaid work despite David Cameron’s claims that companies who fail to pay the minimum wage will be ‘named and shamed’.
Many employers are using the site to offer unpaid work experience roles or internships such as this advertisement calling for”extremely hardworking” graduates to work in exchange for lunch and travel expenses.
Unless unpaid work experience positions form part of a formal Jobcentre scheme they are illegal under minimum wage laws. The law is very clear and guidance on who is entitled to receive the minimum wage can be…
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I’m indebted to A6er, who seems to have found an answer to a question left hanging in Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games – part 4.
In a letter to my Jobcentre’s manager I asked :
Independent advisers. Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.
Their reply :
Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.
A bit ambiguous, you might think. They’re not actually saying you cant, they do seem to be saying “we dont want you to”.
However, A6er has located an up-to-date Freedom of Information request and reply from the DWP on the whatdotheyknow.com site.
View the full document at : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/196795/response/486014/attach/html/3/Response%20634.pdf.html
The highlights, as they apply to this case –
DWP Central Freedom of Information Team
e-mail: [email address].
Our Ref: 634
24 February 2014
Dear F. Walker,
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request which we received on 10 February 2014.
I’d like to know what the rules on taking support to jobcentre appointments, in particular signing on are.
I suffer from anxiety and my doctor has given me a note saying I suffer from anxiety and should have someone at all jobcentre appointments.
My advisor was unhappy with this and I would like to know if I am allowed support or not.
Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf.
DWP will treat the person acting on behalf of the claimant with the same customer standards
as the claimant.
> That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it ? Judging by the sort of customer standards this claimant has witnessed…
The person acting on behalf of the claimant is expected to maintain the same
behaviour standards as the claimant and treat our staff with courtesy.
Claimants can have a variety of people accompany them such as Representatives,
Appointees, Corporate acting bodies or Personal acting bodies.
Guidance for staff includes the information provided below:
A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making
enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several ways,
including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of entitlement
and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or appeal, or helping
them manage their finances. This can be at any stage of the customer’s business with DWP.
Representatives may include:
advice or welfare rights organisations
professionals such as social workers, community nurses or doctors
DWP Central FoI Team
There is quite a lot more than you can – and should – review at the link above, but this extract proves that yes, you can have a representive with you, and the inclusion of advice or welfare rights organisations would seem to fit the category of independent legal adviser.
So – was I lied to by the Jobcentre, or do they just not know their own rules?
And which of those options do you think is worse ?
When David Cameron stands up in all his hypocrisy and tells you that tearing apart the basic safety net that guaranteed people would not be left in hunger or destitution is part of his “moral mission”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the country has taken a turn for the worse.
When he defends an administration that has become so punitive that applicants who don’t get it right have to wait without food for months at a time, by claiming he is doing “what is right”, even die-hard Tories should agree that the man who claims he is Prime Minister has diverged from reality.
That is precisely what he has done, and you can bet that the Tory diehards will quietly go along with it because they think it is far better for other people to lose their lives than it is for their government to lose face.
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This is a few months old, but well worth reprising…
One of the purported achievements of the Coalition government’s disastrous economic policy of austerity, has been the unemployment figures. Pundits say that at 7.8% (2.51m) they are nothing to shout about but not the disastrous rates seen in states such as Greece (26.9%) or Spain (26.3%). In reality, the unemployment rate is more than double this in many areas, while those in employment are facing ever worsening conditions to retain their non-jobs.
We have the Thatcher government to thank for the majority of the statistical trickery which currently renders the government released unemployment figures redundant. Prior to 1979, the unemployment rate was anyone registered as unemployed, this was converted to a percentage of the total workforce and that was the published unemployment rate. Then some changes came in:
- Redefining Unemployment: originally defined as those ‘registered’ unemployed, changed to only count ‘claimants’ – this obviously reduced the number greatly as many unemployed people do not, for various reasons, claim benefits.
- Cutting Benefit Entitlements: By making changes to the benefit system (who is eligible and not) the government can magic away unemployment numbers by simply removing eligibility for benefits. If the person cannot claim, they are not classed as unemployed.
- Training Schemes & Work Programmes: the conservative government of the 80’s began to double count those in training & work programmes. First, they excluded them from the unemployed figures, then they added them to the total workforce figures – this means that simply by recruiting people into a work programme, the government has reduced the unemployment figures. Prior to Thatcher, these schemes were not counted as employment.
The Thatcher government was able to show a drop in unemployment of 550,000 in July 1986, and 668,000 in 1989 by transferring those unemployed into work programmes. They also kept an average 90,000 unemployed under 18 year olds off the books by making them ineligible to claim benefits.
Sadly, none of these changes have since been reversed, giving the UK public a much skewed view of unemployment and underemployment. If we look at the research prepared by other bodies without such downright deceitful exemptions, we reveal a more realistic picture of the economic woe being meted out across the country.
A study put together by Sheffield University last year set out to establish the real level of unemployment in the UK, given that there has been little change in the published unemployment statistic, we can suppose they still hold relatively true. The study found:
- For Britain as a whole in April 2012, the new figures point to more than 3.4 million unemployed. This compares to just 1.5 million on the claimant count and 2.5 million according to the Labour Force Survey – the government’s two official measures of unemployment. The difference is attributable to extensive hidden unemployment.
- An estimated 900,000 unemployed have been diverted onto incapacity benefits. These are men and women with health problems who claim incapacity benefits instead of unemployment benefits. They do not represent fraudulent claims.
- Hidden unemployment is disproportionately concentrated in the weakest local economies, where claimant unemployment is already highest. The effect has been to mask the true scale of labour market disparities between the best and worst parts of the country.
- In the worst affected districts, the real rate of unemployment is often around 15 per cent. Knowsley in Merseyside tops the list with a real rate of unemployment estimated at 16.8 per cent.
- The older industrial areas of the Midlands, the North, Scotland and Wales mostly have the highest rates of unemployment. In large parts of the south of England the rate is still only 3-4 per cent.
- Comparisons with similar data for earlier years shows that Britain was still a long way off full employment before the 2008/9 recession. Full employment is now still further away and the real rate of unemployment is higher than at any time since 1997.
- The report casts serious doubt on the likely impact of the Coalition government’s reforms, notably the Work Programme and Universal Credit, which are founded on the assumption that unemployment can be brought down by encouraging the unemployed to find work. The evidence points to large and continuing shortfalls in job opportunities away from the most prosperous parts of southern England.
One of the more worrying points in the survey is the widening gap between ‘claimant count’ and unemployed , as ever increasing numbers of people fund themselves without a job or eligibility to claim social security. For this expanding pool of people, exploitation beckons.
The government is pressurising people into ever more exploitative work programmes in order to reduce unemployment figures by threatening withdrawal of social security for non-compliance. In 2011, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government announced a plan to increase uptake of Workfare (the term given to these schemes) by 100,000. They also made changes to the programme they inherited from New Labour as follows:
1. A jobseeker who leaves a placement after 1 week loses their welfare payments for 6 weeks. If they do this a second time, they lose them for 13 weeks. The third time, three years.
2. Placements can be mandated for up to 30 hours a week for as long as 6 months.
3. The scheme has been opened up so corporations in the private sector can exploit this taxpayer funded, forced labour.
This means that someone who finds themselves unemployed must work up to thirty hours a week, for up to six months at a time, stacking shelves for Tesco or Poundland simply to receive as little as £53 per week, which they are already entitled to as part of the social contract of Britain. Also, Tesco isn’t paying the £53; we are, through our taxes.
Although an interview is supposed to be guaranteed at the end of the term, it is not required that the workfare provider has a vacancy open. An interview for a job that doesn’t exist is no interview at all.
Corporations get free labour, the government gets to massage the unemployment figures (Workfare victims are counted as employed) and the unemployed get shafted.
Anyone doubting this critique would do well to read the findings of the DWP’s own analysis of the performance of their work programmes. These schemes cost the taxpayer £5bn, yet only 1 in 10 people found employment lasting up to 3 months. The figures are even worse for the sick and disabled people forced into the work programmes – only 1 in 20 finding lasting employment.
The picture doesn’t get any rosier for those who have managed to find employment either.
Employers are less likely to provide real jobs than ever. As the market favours the employer, there has been an unprecedented month on month fall in wages through the entire 36 months of the Coalition government, and wages were already falling before they arrived.
On top of hidden unemployment, the UK also has an ever growing problem with underemployment; the case of people unable to find jobs with sufficient hours/pay to meet their needs.
A recent paper by researchers at the University of Stirling revealed that underemployment rose from 6.2% in 2008 to 9.9% in 2012. The rate hit 30% among 16 to 24 year olds.
We have also seen the rise of ‘zero hour’ contracts. Almost unheard of a few years ago, more than a million UK workers are now under these contracts. These contracts have no specified working hours – meaning that an employee is placed on permanent stand by until or unless the employer needs them. While classed as employed, the person has no wage security as they cannot guarantee their pay from one week to the next. They also receive no sick pay, leave or other basic terms and conditions.
The Resolution Foundation recently published a review of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts which found serious issues of the spike in their use:
- Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts earn less than half the average wage (£236 vs. £482 per week) of those on proper contracts.
- Workplaces using ‘Zero Hours’ contracts have a higher proportion of staff on low pay(within £1.25 of minimum wage) than those who do not.
These factors have allowed the UK Labour Market in recent years to combine a relatively high level of employment and an unprecedented squeeze on wages.
- Those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts work 10 hours a week less, on average, than those who are not (21hrs – 31hrs).
- 18% of those on ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are seeking alternative employment or more hours versus 7% of those in ordinary contracts
These factors have contributed to the rise in underemployment in the UK since 2008. An ONS survey last year revealed more than 1 million people had been added to the rank of the underemployed since the 2008 bailout of the banks.
- ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are hitting young people the hardest, with 37% of those on such contracts aged between 16-24.
- ‘Zero Hours’ contracts are more likely to be held by those without a degree, and with a GCSE as their highest level of education.
- Non UK Nationals are 15% more likely to be employed on such a contract than UK Nationals.
It is not difficult to see the advantages of ‘Zero Hours’ contracts to employers – they can achieve maximum flexibility of their workforce, effectively retaining them on a pay as you go basis. It is also clear that in the short term, the government of the day also enjoy the advantage of hiding the true effects of their cut throat economic policies. But the ordinary human being seeking to meet the rising cost of living is losing on all counts.
Between 2008 and 2012, inflation rose 17% according to the Consumer Price Index, while incomes increased just 7% – this translates to a real terms pay cut of 10% for working people. But the Consumer Price Index measurement tracks the rising cost of an imaginary list of products and services that the poorest workers are unlikely to ever buy. The UK Essentials Index however tracks inflation of the bare essentials that would the poorest would buy – and these have risen by an eye watering 33% during the same period. This means that not only is the impact of unemployment hitting the country disproportionately, but underemployment and exploitative employment conditions are too – with the poorest being the worst affected.
There was a piece on the Guardian this morning talking about the triple boost to the UK economy of increased factory output, house prices and car sales, and trumpeting this as a sign of economic recovery.
But what is the point of this increased GDP if it is won at the expense of people wages and livelihoods? Surely, if the inequality in the UK between rich and poor is growing, unemployment is rising, underemployment is rising and wages are falling – this is a recession. It speaks volumes for the broken economic measures of growth at play here that a real world recession for the majority, is applauded as a recovery, when all that is recovered are the profits for transnational corporations and incomes of high earners, most of whom pay little or no contributions in tax.
Boycott Workfare – get involved in the campaign to outlaw workfare
UKUncut – get involved in demanding proper tax contributions from those corporations benefitting from these nightmare employment schemes.
DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts do extraordinary work highlighting the state’s assault on disabled people. Please support them
Source – BS News, 07 Aug 2013
The UK unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 2009, official figures show.
At 7.4%, this is the lowest rate since the February-to-April period in 2009, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
The number of people out of work fell by 99,000 to 2.39 million in the three months to October, the ONS said.
The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in November fell by 36,700 to 1.27 million.
In Northern Ireland the unemployment rate was slightly higher at 7.5%, while Scotland’s figure was 7.1.%. England and Wales matched the national figure of 7.4%.
The North East of England had the highest unemployment rate, at 10.1%, while the lowest rate was 5.6% in the East of England.
The North East also had the highest claimant count rate at 6.1%, compared with the South East, which had the lowest, at 2.3%.
Employment Minister Esther McVey wasn’t slow to grab the credit – “It is really encouraging news that the number of people in jobs has increased by a quarter of a million in the last three months, bringing the total number of people in work to a record-breaking 30 million.
“Together with a big fall in unemployment, this shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work is proving successful.
“It’s also thanks to British businesses up and down the country who are feeling increasingly confident about taking on workers. This is a great sign that the economy is growing.”
Good of her to give a mention to the businesses employing people – “It’s also thanks to British businesses up and down the country” – you might have thought that it’s entirely thanks to them.
Or would you ? Perhaps, against all probability, there is actually some truth to be found in her statement – “this shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to get people off benefits and into work is proving successful”.
Now if you were to amend that to – “this shows that the Government’s long-term economic plan to get people off benefits is proving successful” you might be getting closer to the truth.
“Latest figures show Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants who failed to do enough to find work had their benefits payments suspended 580,000 times.” – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/benefit-sanctions-ending-the-something-for-nothing-culture
The government’s propaganda site was quick to trumpet their “success” a few months ago.
Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commenting on the above statement:
‘Figures published today show that half a million people face the threat of destitution as their benefits are taken away in a bid to mould behaviour and encourage people to take jobs.
International evidence is that while conditionality, has its uses, it is a blunt and uncertain instrument for driving behaviour. In the US the evidence is that people disappear below the radar altogether, which may recue the claimant count but creates huge risk.
’The threat of destitution is a poorly evidenced high risk way of trying to influence the behaviour of the poorest people in the country.’
Vanishing under the radar – that’s all part of the government’s long-term economic figure-manipulating plan. It’s not about tax payers money being saved – Jobseekers Allowance payments only amount to around 3% of the budget. Almost three times that – around 8% – is paid in benefits to those IN work.
Consider the words of a Job Centre whistleblower – from 2011, and its got worse since…
A whistleblower said staff at his jobcentre were given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months. He said it was part of a “culture change” since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices.
“Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” he said.
“You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money.
“‘Saving the public purse’ is the catchphrase that is used in our office … It is drummed home all the time – you’re saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone’s money, you’ve just saved your own pocket. Its a joke.”
Unfortunately a not very funny joke, with a punchline that causes real damage.
“We were told suddenly that [finding someone to sanction] once a week wasn’t good enough, we were far behind other offices, and we went to a meeting where they compared us with other offices, and said we now have to do three a week to catch up. Most staff go into work and they’re thinking about it from moment one – who am I going to stop this week?”
“The young often fall into it, because they haven’t been there long enough, they are generally a major target. The uneducated are another major target. I’ve seen people with … seriously low educational standards and it’s easy to exploit them.”
He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people.
“So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.”
The whistleblower says his office has been told there is no more money for back to work training from April. “From April, we offer no provision … nothing, no training course, nothing. The funding ends at the end of March.
“[Now] your office can shine through one of two targets. You can either shine through getting people into work, but that’s really difficult. Or you can stop their money, and that’s really easy.”
Well, that was 2011. Things have got worse as it becomes ingrained in the DWP culture. One perceptive reader of the above Guardian article wrote at the time :
” At some point Osborne or Cameron will triumphantly brandish figures about how many ‘scroungers’ they cut off from benefits. Remember, this is how they did it.”
Anyone hearing Cameron in the media yesterday might like to consider that.
And its going to get worse yet – consider an article published a few days ago on the Boycott Workfare site –
100,000 people given historic sanctions
In August 2012 it was ruled in the high court that the letters given to claimants mandating them onto workfare schemes of up to 780 unpaid hours did not communicate to people what was required of them on these schemes. This meant all the sanctions that had been awarded through a range of different workfare schemes were unlawful and had to be repaid. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) went about appealing this ruling, but in February 2013 the decision was upheld.
After this the DWP rushed through the retrospective Jobseekers (Back to Work) Act, making the unlawful withdrawal of benefits from an estimated 179,000 people now apparently legal – although obviously this Act did not change the fact that people were not fully aware of what was required of them at the time.
This Act was supported by the Labour Party and deprived people who would have suffered significant hardship of a total of £130 million that was unlawfully stolen by the government.
It now turns out that the cruelty of this Act did not stop there. Since the first court case decision in August 2012 they had stopped sanctioning for cases that would be affected by the courts decision, and had started to stockpile these decisions. The introduction of the Jobseekers (Back to Work) Act allowed them to start sanctioning all these stockpiled sanctions. At the time they rushed through the act 63,000 sanctions had been stockpiled, and by the time they started to sanction people in July 2013 this could have reached over 100,000 sanctions.
Over the last 3-6 months people have been notified of these sanctions with letters such as the one shown. As can be seen there can be a year long gap between the alleged event and you being notified of the sanction making it almost impossible to appeal as it is unlikely you have knowledge of what you did on that day (and neither do the work programme providers!).
Not only were all 3 main political parties involved in depriving the poorest people of £130 million that was rightfully theirs, but are now chasing another 100,000 claimants for money through these historic sanctions with little hope of claimants forming a strong case of appeal. All benefit sanctions are wrong, but this retrospective law shows how happy the government are to even sanction illegally – as they’ll just change the law later and sanction people a year down the line.
You wonder that the unemployment rates seem to be falling ? Even though there are apparently no more vacancies than before, still masses of empty shops and factories and the local media continues to report job losses on an almost daily basis ?
Do you wonder why, in Parliament, Labour MPs failed to ask questions about the role of sanctions in the supposed improved figures ?
Or why, on the day the figures were released, the Sunderland Echo – hardly a radical publication – headlined with Bleakest Times For The City’s Homeless ?
Come April 2014 and the introduction of compulsory workfare – allied to all those retrospective sanctions they’re currently harvesting – you can just bet those figures will be tumbling yet again.
Please remember why… someone, somewhere, perhaps even you, will have been sacrificed on the altar of political ambition.
Does that dull the feelgood factor perhaps just a little ?