Former jobcentre adviser Angela Neville has written a play to expose the harsh reality of the benefits sanctions regime.
Angela Neville, 48, is describing events she witnessed as a special adviser in a jobcentre that prompted her to write a play about her experiences.
“We were given lists of customers to call immediately and get them on to the Work Programme,” she recalls.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry this can’t happen, this man is in hospital.’ I was told [by my boss]: ‘No, you’ve got to phone him and you’ve got to put this to him and he may be sanctioned.’ I said I’m not doing it.”
Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.
The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that she and the others feel at how people on benefits are being treated, she says. And she unashamedly describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”.
Can This be England? deals with the quagmire that awaits people caught in the welfare system. Scenes are set in jobcentres and in characters’ homes addressing some of what Neville calls the “everyday absurdity” of what occurs, such as when people with disabilities and fluctuating health conditions are wrongly declared “fit for work” inflicting additional suffering in the process. It also examines the dilemmas faced by staff in jobcentres, many of whom Neville believes feel stripped of any power to do good and are crumbling under the strain as managers enforce new rules.
Source – Benefits & Work, 03 Feb 2015
Councils are doing more to help unemployed people than the Government as data shows people are falling through the cracks.
The Local Government Association has made the claim as the North East shoulders the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.1%) and as its research shows there has been an alarming 28% increase in the number of unemployed not claiming benefits in the last 18 months.
> Is that because they’ve been sanctioned ?
It means that while Government data does not reveal the full extent of the problem, the LGA says local authorities are being left to pick up the pieces.
The LGA has praised North East councils for working with employers, charities and voluntary groups, schools, colleges and housing associations, and says schemes are offering one-to-one mentoring, training, work placements and apprenticeships at a crucial time.
LGA chairman David Sparks said the capacity for councils to play this role, however, is under threat as all parties eye further cuts.
“Unemployment is falling, but the headlines hide the plight of our most vulnerable residents who are falling through the cracks. Too many are let down by national job schemes which are unable to identify or help them because they have not signed on at their local Jobcentre Plus.
“Councils across the country are desperate to ensure no-one is left behind and have sought to support those being forgotten by these national services by using their local knowledge, expertise and connections with local organisations and services to target their hardest to reach residents.”
Council leaders say national schemes aim to simply shift people from the benefits queue and that approach is damaging for some of the most vulnerable, such as young or disabled people.
Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, said the news was more evidence that the Government must devolve more powers to the North East.
“The Government are more interested in getting people off benefits than getting them into work. The reality is the jobs that are being created are in most cases, part-time, low wage and zero contract hours.
“Local authorities are having much more success in helping people into jobs and training than Government because they have a better understanding of what is happening in their area.”
Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council said:
“The national approach is to move people off the benefits register as quickly as possible, but sometimes this can be to the detriment of more vulnerable residents and can exacerbate their situation if they take the first job that comes along and they are not ready to work.
“Our approach has been to offer residents constructive and comprehensive advice and support to help them back into work at the right time for them and the employer. In partnership with employers, we have designed initiatives to support jobs and apprenticeship creation this has created over 400 new jobs apprenticeships over the past three years.
“Although there have been national schemes offering wage subsidies, feedback from our employers showed that the schemes were too difficult to access due to a vast amount of eligibility criteria.
“We have taken the time to understand the barriers that our residents face when looking to go back into employment and then commissioned community learning programmes that will address those issues, such as literacy and numeracy programmes and support to help residents gain IT and money management skills.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Jan 2015
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.
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
Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman Mike McGrother wrote this to Love Productions.
As revealed yesterday, Love Productions is currently filming the second series of the controversial Channel Four show in Kingston Road on the Tilery Estate in Stockton.
Middlesbrough Evening Gazette published a detailed interview with the company in which one of its directors explained why Teesside had been chosen for the second series.
And that prompted proud Stocktonian Mike – who had previously contacted the Daily Mail over its coverage of the town – to write this open letter to Love Productions.
“I understand you have decided to come to our town and make a television series about it.
“As far as I can see, your justification comprises of:
“1. There are unemployed people there;
“2. You will be giving them ‘a voice’.
“I find your statement ‘In Stockton and the Kingston Road area there are a large number of people on benefits’ at best lazy and at worst, unscientific.
“If this is the level of research Love Productions proudly use to back up their choices, the academics of Oxford, Cambridge and the world must be quaking in their boots!
“I then note you want to ‘give a voice to a community that don’t really have a voice.’
“How wonderfully philanthropic and not in the least bit patronising of you.
“But you see, the thing is, we Stocktonians already have a timeless voice we are deeply proud of.
“It could be heard consistently during the summer through our massive carnival, in festivals, sunflower commemorations and in our schools, workplaces and community hubs.
“If you would like to truly give us a voice, then why did your production crews not film these and choose to work so secretively?
“Why have you not consulted properly with local support services and – if and when you did talk to them – ignore what they advised?
“Why do you preach fair representation but then exclude the majority of residents?
“Do you really doubt our integrity so much to think we believe that television editing can provide a fair, honest and truthfully representative platform from which people can be heard?
“And so while we can’t stop your ironically named ‘Love Productions’ team coming to Stockton, what I – and more people than you may wish to think about – can also not be stopped from is making our own ‘productions‘ whilst you try to film.
“If we disrupt your lives over the coming months, think about how you are disrupting ours.
“Don’t expect demonstrations, conflict or confrontation.
“But do expect to witness a community that already has an identity, a spirit and a very much bigger voice than you perhaps anticipated – to be heard, to be seen and to shine.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 27 Aug 2014
New research published by the TUC reveals the future impact of a controversial new welfare reform – the five-week wait – on workers in North West England, with 39,000 newly unemployed people set to be hit each month.
Currently most workers who lose their job have to wait two weeks before they get their first benefit payment. But under new Universal Credit rules for assessing unemployment claims, most people will face a wait of more than five weeks before they get any money. This could mean going two months into rent arrears before any cash support arrives.
The TUC’s new research reveals the monthly average number of newly unemployed people broken down by region, local authority (county and unitary) and constituency. This indicates how many people can be expected to be hit by the five-week wait when Universal Credit replaces workers’ current safety net benefits.
Across the region, Lancashire is the most affected local authority where over 5,000 people each month are expected to be hit by the five-week wait, in Manchester more than 3,600 people will be affected whilst in Liverpool just under 3,500 people will be affected.
These local authorities are amongst the biggest affected in the UK, ranked 4th, 9th and 11th respectively. The DWP’s own analysis suggests that the measure may increase claimants’ reliance on short-term loans.
The TUC has launched a new campaign, Saving Our Safety Net, to highlight the five-week wait and other welfare reforms that cut safety net protection for working people.
North West TUC Regional Secretary Lynn Collins said:
“We know workers in the North West have suffered cuts in real earnings over the last 5 years, and will have relied on savings to get by, which means that many workers have no financial buffer if they lose their job. Help should be there when it is needed, but instead people will be left to rely on food banks and pay day loans to see them through the wait.
“Welfare reform is one thing but the five week wait is a collective punishment for anyone who loses their job. People need to focus on finding new work, instead of being stressed-out about how they will pay the rent, feed the kids and keep the heating on.
“Job security has got worse since the recession. Government ministers are out of touch and fail to understand the anxiety many people feel not knowing if they’ll still have work next month. If your job goes, the five-week wait puts you at greater risk of a downward spiral where you’re trapped in debt, lose your home, become ill from the stress and fall too far to climb back again.
“With these escalating bills, worsening job security and only a limited recovery in the jobs market, a 5 week wait could easily push many more families into poverty through no fault of their own. These people have paid for, and deserve, a safety net.
“We are launching the Saving Our Safety Net campaign to expose government welfare plans for what they are – cuts to the National Insurance safety net we’ve all paid into on the understanding that it will be there when we need it.”
Source – Welfare News Service 07 Aug 2014
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Sunday 15th June 2014
The proposal is one of a series from the Institute for Public Policy Research in its Condition of Britain report, to be published on Thursday, including a proposal for a “daddy month” – four weeks’ paternity leave on the minimum wage, a plan that would cost the taxpayer £150m. More than 400,000 working fathers a year would benefit.
The thinktank’s report, the product of two years’ research, is due to be launched by Ed Miliband. It will look at the social and economic problems facing the country and cover areas such as welfare, housing, childcare and improvements to social care, as well as handing more power to local councils.
The current legal entitlement for working fathers is paid at a flat rate of £138.18 a week – equivalent to just £3.45 an hour for a 40-hour working week, little more than half the minimum wage. The IPPR proposes that the statutory paternity leave entitlement should not only be extended but should be paid at least the national minimum wage, with employers also encouraged to bridge the gap between the statutory rate and the father’s actual pay.
Only 55% of fathers take the full two weeks off work when their child is born and a third do not take any of their statutory leave. Most say this is because they cannot afford to.
On the Work Programme, the report concludes that the scheme is especially failing mentally ill people, and the task of helping those on employment support allowance – the main disability benefit – to find work should be devolved to local authorities, with councils recouping some of the possible savings from the Department for Work and Pensions.
However, the report says private contractors should be left to find jobs for the mainstream long-term unemployed using a modified version of the current system of payments by results.
> So… get rid of the Work Programme, and replace it with something like the Work Programme ? And we all know how good private companies are at milking the system despite poor results… which brings us back to the Work Programme !
It says: “The Work Programme, while delivering acceptable results for the mainstream job seekers, is letting down those furthest from the labour market. Whilst one in five mainstream job seekers will find work through the Work Programme as few as one in 20 of those furthest from the labour market will.”
> 20% is delivering acceptable results ?
It also says those in areas of highest unemployment are receiving the least effective help.
It adds the “DWP has carved up the country between providers without any accountability to citizens or regard to local labour market conditions. Therefore for those out of work the system represents a postcode lottery in which success is determined not by individual effort but by geography.”
The report also says the government should offer a guaranteed six month minimum job paid at the minimum wage or above to anyone who has been unemployed and claiming job seekers allowance for more than 12 consecutive months.
> Or another work scheme, in other words. And after 6 months ?
The report will also set out plans to freeze child benefit to help fund a new network of children’s centres and extra free childcare, although it is understood that Miliband will reject this proposal.
Source – Welfare News Service, 15 June 2014
Increasing the length of time people who lose their jobs will have to wait before they can claim benefits will not help them find work, and risks pushing unemployed people into the arms of loan sharks, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) warns.
From Autumn 2014 anyone who is unlucky enough to lose their job will have to wait seven days before they can make a claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), according to a consultation published by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC). The SSAC advises the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on benefits issues.
TUC say that according to the Government’s own impact assessment the change means that people will lose £40 in benefits they would have received under the current system. That system asks that people who lose their jobs wait three days before becoming eligible to claim unemployment benefits, rather than the seven days waiting period being proposed by the coalition government.
The impact assessment, which forms part of the consultation published by the SSAC, suggests that the change in the waiting period for benefits will affect as many as 1.3 million people a year.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Forcing people to wait for job support will not help anyone find work. Instead it will make them easy prey for loan sharks. This has nothing to do with making work pay. It is simply a mean attack on the welfare safety net and could affect any one of us.
“It won’t matter how long anyone has had a job or how much they have contributed to the system, they will all suffer the same penalty. The vast majority of people who lose a job thankfully find another one within a few months, but this is when they need help to tide them over between jobs. That is why we have a national insurance system to which we contribute when we are in work – a system that is now under attack.”
Paul Gray, Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), said:
“This proposal has history. An identical change was put forward by the Government in 1998 but subsequently dropped. Then, as now, an understandable desire to ensure limited public resources are used most effectively was the main driver for the proposal. However, as benefits are now being paid fortnightly in arrears, it is important that we understand the full impact of this change – particularly on the most vulnerable. We are keen to hear from anyone who is able to provide information about the consequences of this change”.
The change is expected to come into force from October and anyone wishing to have their say are asked to submit evidence to the SSAC (pdf) by 13 June 2014.
Source – Welfare News Service, 23 May 2014
The coalition government’s ‘Help To Work’ scheme comes into effect from today, Monday 28 April 2014.
Under the new scheme unemployed people who have been out of work for longer than two years, and who have completed the Work Programme, will be expected to undertake tough new requirements in order to continue receiving benefit.
Community work experience placements will be for 30 hours per week and could last up to six months. If participants have failed to find a job by the time the six months are up they could find themselves being recycled back onto the programme, in what could become a never-ending cycle of work for your benefits.
> How are you expected to find a job while serving a 30 hour sentence each week, when you couldn’t when you had more time to look for work ?
The long-term unemployed will also be expected to visit their local JobCentre every day to ‘sign on’ and will receive up to fours hours intensive job search coaching for each week they are on the ‘Help To Work’ Scheme.
> I don’t think Jobcentres would be able to cope with the numbers just signing on each day – forget 4 hours ‘intensive job search coaching’ ! Which in any case would actually amount to 4 hours trying to sanction you.
Failure to comply with the strict new regime could result in jobseeker’s losing their benefit for four weeks at a time or longer for repeat offenders.
According to the government, jobseeker’s with learning difficulties will also receive educational support to improve their literacy and numeracy skills.
Sick and disabled benefit claimants in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) will not be required to take part in the scheme.
Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“A key part of our long-term economic plan is to move to full employment, making sure that everyone who can work is in work.
“We are seeing record levels of employment in Britain, as more and more people find a job, but we need to look at those who are persistently stuck on benefits.
“This scheme will provide more help than ever before, getting people into work and on the road to a more secure future.”
Secretary of State of Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith said:
“Everyone with the ability to work should be given the support and opportunity to do so.
“The previous system wrote too many people off, which was a huge waste of potential for those individuals as well as for their families and the country as a whole. We are now seeing record numbers of people in jobs and the largest fall in long-term unemployment since 1998.
“But there’s always more to do, which is why we are introducing this new scheme to provide additional support to the very small minority of claimants who have been unemployed for a number of years.
“In this way we will ensure that they too can benefit from the improving jobs market and the growing economy.”
The move has come under heavy criticism from both Labour and the unions. Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner describing the new scheme as a form of “forced unpaid labour”. He told the Independent newspaper:
“This scheme is nothing more than forced unpaid labour and there is no evidence that these workfare programmes get people into paid work in the long-term.
“We are against this scheme wherever ministers want to implement it – in the private sector, local government and in the voluntary sector.
“The Government sees cash-starved charities as ‘a soft target’ for such an obscene scheme, so we are asking charity bosses to say ‘no’ to taking part in this programme. This is a warping of the true spirit of volunteering and will force the public to look differently at charities with which they were once proud to be associated.
“It is outrageous that the Government is trying to stigmatise job seekers by making them work for nothing, otherwise they will have their benefits docked.”
Labour’s Stephen Timms added:
“Under David Cameron’s government nearly one in ten people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance lack basic literacy skills and many more are unable to do simple maths or send an email. Yet this Government allows jobseekers to spend up to three years claiming benefits before they get literacy and numeracy training.
> Yes, we’re a pretty ignorant lot, us unemployed – obviously we wouldn’t be on the dole if we weren’t thick.
What proof is there actually for these kind of claims ?
“A Labour government will introduce a Basic Skills Test to assess all new claimants for Jobseeker’s Allowance within six weeks of claiming benefits.
“Those who don’t have the skills they need for a job will have to take up training alongside their job search or lose their benefits.
> Here we go – Labour so eager to prove that their stick is as least as big as the ConDems.
Labour’s Basic Skills Test and our Compulsory Jobs Guarantee will give the unemployed a better chance of finding a job and will help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis.”
> Yes, but unless there are actually more proper jobs to apply for, you can have all the mickey mouse qualifications in the world – you’re still limited by the number of vacancies.
Whilst the number of available job vacancies have increased significantly in recent months many area’s of the country are still witnessing a severe shortage of jobs, with the North-East of England and parts of Scotland fairing the worst.
> See, the problem is that it’s all very well saying the number of available job vacancies have increased significantly in recent months , but no-one breaks down the numbers.
How many of these jobs are actually full-time ? how many part-time ? How many are zero hour jobs ? How many are dodgy ‘self-employed’ leaflet distribution jobs ?
As someone who needs a full time wage, I know all too well that the number of these is all too small a percentage locally.
This is in stark contrast to area’s in the South-East of England where the number of available jobs are greater than the numbers of people looking for work.
However, figures due to be released on Tuesday are expected to show that competition for jobs has fallen to a new low of 1.42 jobseeker’s for every advertised job vacancy. This will no doubt come as good news for the coaliton government.
> If anyone actually believed it…
However, those figures are also expected to show that the average advertised salary has dropped by £1,800 over the last twelve months, providing more fuel to Labour’s ‘cost of living crisis’ argument.
Sourc e – Welfare News Service 28 April 2014
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
Minimum length benefit sanctions are ‘setting people up to fail’ and pushes unemployed people further away from the world of work, figures released by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) suggest.
Figures released by the CAB on Tuesday, show that unemployed people who have had their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctioned under the current system are left ‘distracted from job-hunting as they have to focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head’.
Benefit sanctions are also pushing people into debt, which in-turn is having a detrimental impact on their health and making it even more difficult for them to spend time looking for a job, the CAB say.
> Who’d have guessed that would happen, eh ?
According to the CAB, of the 100,000 food bank vouchers handed out by the charity last year, sixteen per cent were due to people having their benefits sanctioned.
The CAB has called on the government to implement the ‘more responsive sanctions model’ used in Universal Credit, which the charity claims is ‘more focused on getting claimants back on track with their job-hunting rather than the often more punitive approach of the current system’.
Under the new benefit sanctions system in Universal Credit, Jobcentre staff would be able to use a more ‘proportionate’ approach to sanctioning claimants, rather than the often disproportionate minimum four-week period currently in use. Benefits could be sanctioned for as little as a week under the new system, the CAB say.
> But do benefits need to be sanctioned at all – surely that’s the real question? The current surge in sanctions isn’t because claimants are acting worse than before, its because Jobcentre staff are trying to hit targets, so that they don’t lose their bonuses.
If anything, the surge is because jobcentre staff are acting worse than they used to !
Some of the CAB’s key findings include:
- 1 in 4 Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children
- 1 in 4 identified as being disabled of suffering from a long-term health condition
- 1 in 6 also had a debt problem
- 1 in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“The minimum four week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.
“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.
“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.
“To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with Citizens Advice’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”
Source – Welfare News Service 18 April 2014