This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 8th January 2015
Pleas to the government to suspend its benefit sanctions regime pending a fundamental review of its impact – especially on the mentally ill and disabled – were made at the first session of a broad inquiry by the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee.
In a two-and-half hour session involving academics, food banks administrators, disabled groups and employment service professionals, the select committee repeatedly heard the sanctions regime had changed over the last two years, creating a punitive culture of fear – especially amongst the disabled.
Mathew Oakley, the independent reviewer for sanctions appointed by the DWP did not join in their fiercest criticism of the system but said it would be wise for the government to undertake a general stock-take of the system in view of the extent to which it has changed over the past two parliaments.
> Matthew Oakley is the guy who in 2011 was behind a Policy Exchange thinktank report titled: Something For Nothing : Reinstating Conditionality For Jobseekers, which called for a new points based system for Jobseekers Allowance that recognises different ‘job-search’ activities that claimants are required to carry out each week.
‘Attending a job interview’, which is currently not a recognised job seeking activity, would earn a greater number of points than ‘putting together a CV’ or ‘seeking information about a job’.
Claimants would have to reach a specific number of points each week to receive their benefits. If they failed to reach the minimum target benefits would be withheld.
Or sanctioned in other words. So no prizes for guessing which side of the fence he’s on…
He was one of many witnesses that said the government lacked systematic information on what happened to jobseeker’s allowance claimants if they are sanctioned including whether they went into work, the black economy or instead disengaged, leading to the growing gap between the number unemployed and the numbers claiming JSA.
Dr David Webster, visiting professor of Glasgow University, claimed the system had a gradually parallel secret penal system – a view dismissed by one Tory committee member as ‘completely absurd and bizarre’. Webster said the DWP may now be saving as much as £275m a year due to claimants being stopped.
Tony Wilson, the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, said sanctions “are running so far ahead of what works we should suspend the applications of sanctions unless we have a much clearer idea of what works and the impact of sanctions”.
Paul Farmer, the chief executive officer of mental health charity Mind said sanctions amongst those on employment support allowance has risen from 1,700 a month to 4,800 a month, adding there had been a disproportionate impact on people on mental health.
He claimed 60% of those on ESA have a mental health problem, yet in only 8% of cases were GPs being contacted as required in guidance to seek their views on the pressing ahead with sanctions.
Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, one of the chief organisers of food banks in the UK, said there had been a radical change in the way very disproportionate decisions were being taken since the latter part of 2012 , adding it was clear some job centres were being more punitive than others. He said in too many cases it takes too long for a claimant to secure redress if they have had their benefit withdrawn.
Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of Employment Related Services Association, the representative body for the employment support sector, also called for an overhaul including the introduction of an “early warning” system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction. She added frontline employment providers of the work programme should be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.
She also called for greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers are classed as “vulnerable” and should be exempt from sanctions.
McHugh said “For a minority of people, receiving a sanction can be the wake up call they need to help them move into work. However, for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment.”
> Yeah… that’s what we’ve been telling you for the past few years. So nice you’re catching up, but for some people its all too late.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Jan 2015
Trade Union Congress (TUC) Press Release:
Inner London is the only area of the country to have a higher rate of job starts than before the recession, while job creation in some parts of the country is down 31 per cent on pre-recession levels, according to a new TUC report published today (Monday).
The TUC Touchstone pamphlet Equitable Full Employment: A Jobs Recovery For All (pdf) shows that the recent rise in employment is being driven by fewer people leaving their jobs, rather than more people finding new work.
Job starts – the number of people starting a new job within a three month period – are currently around 20 per cent below pre-recession levels across the UK, and are still falling in parts of the country. The fact that fewer people are leaving their jobs helps to explain why the employment rate for older workers is increasing so much faster than for young people, says the TUC.
The report, written for the TUC by Tony Wilson and Paul Bivand of the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion), compares job start rates before the recession, at the height of the crash and during the recent recovery. It finds that metropolitan areas such as London, Birmingham and Tyne and Wear are recovering faster than their neighbouring rural areas.
Inner London is the only area of the country where jobs are being created at a faster rate than before the crash. Outer London, the South East and Eastern England have recovered since the crash but job starts are still 11 per cent, 16 per cent and 21 per cent below pre-recession levels.
Job creation across the rest of the country is more mixed, says the TUC. Job creation in Tyne and Wear is recovering (though still 11 per cent below pre-recession levels) but getting worse across the rest of the North East.
> In fact, as a whole, North East unemployment continues to rise…
Job creation in the West Midlands metropolitan area is recovering but the rest of the region continues to decline (down 31 per cent), while South and West Yorkshire are both performing far better than the rest of Yorkshire and Humberside. Job starts in Greater Manchester have fallen slightly since the height of the crash but the city is still doing far better than Merseyside and the rest of the North West, where job starts are 30 per cent down on pre-recession levels.
Strathclyde is the only major metropolitan area that is performing worse than its neighbouring area, with job creation across the rest of Scotland recovering faster.
The report shows while the UK’s employment rate is rising, there are huge swathes of the country – particularly rural areas – where job creation remains depressed and is getting worse, say the TUC.
The report also looks at job starts across different age groups, qualification levels and types of work. It finds that while job creation rates for graduates are back above pre-recession levels, the number of people with lower-level qualifications starting new jobs declined during the boom and has continued to deteriorate since the crash.
The proportion of jobs starts to non-permanent work is now higher than it was before the crash, with three in ten job starts in temporary work. Fixed-term contacts are the most popular form of temporary work.
The continuing shift from permanent employee jobs to self-employment and temporary work, such as fixed-term contacts and agency work, suggests the nature of the UK jobs market is changing permanently, rather than being a short-term response to the recession, says the TUC.
> The final victory of Thatcherism – smash the unions and the rest can be exploited…
The rate of people moving from unemployment to work is still lower than pre-recession levels across all age groups, say the report. ‘Hiring rates’ have recovered fastest for older workers, but they remain far less likely to move from unemployment to work than any other age group.
Hiring rates for 16-24 year olds, who traditionally have moved from unemployment into work at a far quicker rate than all other age groups, have declined considerably over the last 17 years. People in their late 20s and early 30s are now finding work as quickly as younger people, says the report.
The report makes a number of recommendations to boost job creation and raise employment levels further, including:
• Offering targeted employment support programmes, such as a job guarantee for any young person out of work for at least six months.
• Identifying low skills as a reason to provide more intensive employment support.
• Establishing bodies in each industrial sector so that government, unions and employers can work together to identify skills gaps, promote decent workplace standards and fair pay.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Many people assume that rising employment levels are simply down to more people getting new work. In fact, the recent recovery in our jobs market is mainly due to people holding onto their jobs, rather than finding new ones. This is great news if you want to keep earning as you approach retirement, but less positive if you’re trying to take your first step on the career ladder.
“Job creation is as important for people looking for work as it is for those already in work and looking to boost their incomes. It’s worrying that across huge swathes of the country – and particularly in rural areas – job creation levels remain depressed and that where jobs are being created far more are temporary positions than before the crash.
“We need to see far more high-quality jobs being created, not just in our cities but across the UK, if we’re going to achieve full employment and a return to healthy pay rises.”
CESI Associate Director Paul Bivand said:
“What we are concerned about is inclusion, which isn’t just our name. Growth in employment should help to close gaps in our society. We don’t want a rising tide to lift just the most buoyant, while leaving others behind. We want all areas and groups to benefit and we need to close gaps.
“We are already hearing that there is a risk of the Bank taking action because of overheating high-end London house prices. For the economy to benefit all, then rises in jobs have to occur in the rural areas as well as the cities, and Glasgow and Merseyside as well as the South East.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 23 June 2014