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
Channel 4 has been accused of perpetuating a “monstrous travesty of reality” by producing shows such as Benefits Street.
The second series of the show is being filmed in Kingston Road, Tilery, in Stockton, after the first – based in Birmingham – attracted huge controvery.
MP Austin Mitchell accused the broadcaster, which sparked controversy with the notorious show Benefits Street earlier this year, of using “poverty tourism” to chase ratings.
He made the comments as Channel 4 goes ahead with a second series of Skint, due to air next week, which was filmed in his Grimsby constituency despite local opposition.
The first instalment of the observational documentary series, an investigation into poverty in Scunthorpe, followed people living on the Westcliff estate.
The Labour MP told Radio Times magazine:
“Poverty isn’t an entertainment. It’s private, debilitating and alienating.”
“Channel 4 has discovered that poverty tourism does more for ratings than celebrity culture, missions to explain or any highfalutin attempts to hold government to account.
“Kicking people when they’re down (and gullible) is so much easier and less expensive than intelligent programming.
“Victims don’t sue, and when do-gooders complain, they can always be accused of wanting to censor serious seekers after truth. So we get a proliferation of misery telly and programmes like Benefits Street, Immigration Street and Skint.”
He claimed that the broadcaster was stirring up antagonism against the poor and failing to show balance by neglecting to put the rich under the same spotlight.“Demonising the poor and turning deprivation into entertainment isn’t just deplorable, it’s dishonest,” he said.
“Poverty has become an object of blame, as if scroungers are responsible for the size of the benefits bill, young people enjoy a life of idleness and ‘hard-working families’ are having to work for peanuts while lazy neighbours procreate.
“This is a monstrous travesty of reality and concentrates hatred on the least well-educated, most deprived.
“TV doesn’t even balance it with shows on the scandal of massive tax evasion and avoidance by corporations and the rich, the luxurious lifestyle of the City and Taxhaven on Thames or the excesses of the Wolf of Wall Street.”
> Well of course they don’t – those people own them !
He urged Channel 4 to “think again”, adding: “Why not turn the cameras on the bankers punishing the poor, with Benefits Bankers, Tax-Evading Toffs and Fiddling Financiers? When is television going to do its job and take on all that? All it needs is guts and a sense of fairness.”
> See my previous comment.
The first series of Benefits Street, filmed in Birmingham, made stars of some of its cast but was described by some critics as “poverty porn”.
Programme-makers faced opposition in Stockton, the location for the new series of Benefits Street, and in Southampton, where spin-off series Immigration Street was being filmed.
Channel 4 executive Ralph Lee recently defended the shows, saying: “We can’t let this kind of criticism have a chilling effect on making programmes.
“In a way what they are calling for is a form of censorship and I am always really suspicious of that. I defend our right – and the necessity – to tell the stories of some of the distressed parts of our society.”
> In a way that perpetuates the stereotypes our tax-evading masters wish us to…
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 18 Nov 2014
> More smear tactics, courtesy of the Daily Excess – “hunt down” all those benefit fraudsters who are the real cause of all ills. You know it makes sense (to Excess readers, anyway…)
The Government has brought together officials from the Department of Work and Pensions, the tax office and local authorities to tackle the crime.
The streamlined approach goes hand-in-hand with powers unveiled earlier this year to clamp down on benefit fraud, including using bailiffs to confiscate high-value possessions from convicted benefit cheats.
> Now there’s a tactic which would work better against all those tax-cheating individuals and companies… but somehow they never get around to them.
Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: “Reducing benefit fraud and error in the system is a crucial plank of our welfare reforms to make work pay and the system fairer for everyone.
“By bringing teams from local authorities and HMRC into our investigation service we will be able to build on the hard work we’ve already done to crack down on benefit fraud.
“Alongside this change, Universal Credit is expected to reduce losses due to fraud by £1billion in five years when it is fully in place across the country.”
> Ha ha ha – Universal Credit is the biggest benefit fraud of all, millions spent on it and it still doesn’t work. If they’d not embarked on it, there’d be plenty of money for benefits.
The new service went live in nine local authority areas on Tuesday July 1 and will be rolled out across the country in the autumn.
It started in Corby, Cornwall, Cardiff, Southampton, Oldham, Hillingdon, Wrexham, Blaenau Gwent and East Ayrshire.
Joint investigations between local authorities and the Government have already led to a string of convictions, including Alycia Mallett from Broxbourne in Hertfordshire who admitted falsely claiming £35,700 in benefits while working as an escort.
She was given eight weeks’ custody suspended for 12 months in April at Stevenage Crown Court.
Source – Daily Express, 04 July 2014
> NOT included in the Excess article –
Fiction: People believe that some 27% of the Welfare Budget is claimed as a result of fraud
Fact: The actual figure is 0.8 % whilst tax avoidance and evasion is estimated at anywhere from £30bn to £120bn.