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
Hundreds of thousands of jobseekers could have ‘disappeared’ from official unemployment figures after having their benefit payments docked, figures suggest.
According to research from the University of Oxford, up to 500,000 unemployed people closed their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claim soon after being sanctioned by the DWP.
Rather than moving into employment, these people are simply disappearing from the benefits system entirely and no one has a clue where they’re ending up.
This means that unemployment could be 20,000 to 30,000 higher each month than figures suggest. If true, it would mean that as many as 1,000,000 people would have been claiming JSA in August 2014, rather than the 970,000 widely reported in the press.
It’s also important to note that some groups aren’t included in the claimant count – one measure used to calculate unemployment – including sickness benefit claimants, some working age students and early retirees – among others.
Professor Stuckler, who analysed data from 375 local authorities, said:
“The data clearly show that many people are not leaving JSA for work but appear to be being pushed off in unprecedented numbers in association with sanctions.”
The death of a diabetic former soldier after his benefits were slashed sparked a Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry. More than 210,000 people signed a petition calling for the inquiry.
David, 59, was found dead at his home in Hertfordshire in July 2013. Penniless, David could not afford money for electric to keep his insulin refrigerated and died of fatal diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication caused by lack of insulin.
At the inquiry held last week, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams MP told the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP:
“Hundreds of thousands of people have had their benefits stopped for a minimum of four weeks and then approximately a quarter of these people, from the research that I’ve seen, are disappearing.
“They are leaving and we don’t know where they are going. That’s an absolute indictment of this policy and it’s a little bit worrying if we’re trying to tout this internationally as a real success story.”
Iain Duncan Smith responded:
“Well I don’t agree with any of that. I actually believe the sanctions regime as applied is fair, we always get the odd case of …”
Not giving Mr Duncan Smith a chance to complete his sentence, a furious Debbie Abrahams retorted:
“People are dying because of these sanctions!”
Jobseekers who fail to comply with strict requirements imposed upon them risk having their benefits docked, or ‘sanctioned’. Some unemployed people claim their benefit payments have been stopped or reduced for trivial or harsh reasons. Such as failing to turn-up to a Job Centre appointment, even though they have informed staff they were in hospital.
After the Select Committee hearing Debbie Abrahams said:
“It’s incredible that the minister can simply brush aside the mounting evidence that inappropriate use of social security sanctions is having on vulnerable people.
> Well, glad you’ve noticed it’s happening. The rest of us have known this since Day 1.
“We’ve already heard from a whistleblower who left his job as a JCP advisor because he refused to apply sanctions when people had done nothing wrong.
“And recently, over 200,000 people have signed a petition to look into the death of an ex-soldier and diabetic, from Stevenage, who died after having been sanctioned.
“He was found dead surrounded by job applications, penniless and with an empty stomach according to his post-mortem. He couldn’t even afford to run his fridge so couldn’t keep his medicines cold.
“Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers as well as the sick and disabled. And we shouldn’t forget that most people on social security are actually in work but are struggling to make ends meet.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Nov 2014
The economic crisis in Europe and North America led to more than 10,000 extra suicides, according to figures from UK researchers.
A study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed “suicides have risen markedly“.
The research group said some deaths may have been avoidable as some countries showed no increase in suicide rate.
Campaign groups said the findings showed how important good mental health services were.
The study by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analysed data from 24 EU countries, the US and Canada.
It said suicides had been declining in Europe until 2007. By 2009 there was a 6.5% increase, a level that was sustained until 2011.
It was the equivalent of 7,950 more suicides than would have been expected if previous trends continued, the research group said.
Deaths by suicide were also falling in Canada, but there was a marked increase when the recession took hold in 2008, leading to 240 more suicides.
The number of people taking their own life was already increasing in the US, but the rate “accelerated” with the economic crisis, leading to 4,750 additional deaths.
The report said losing a job, having a home repossessed and being in debt were the main risk factors.
However, some countries bucked the trend. Sweden, Finland and Austria all avoided increases in the suicide rate during the recession.
One of the researchers, Dr Aaron Reeves, of the University of Oxford, said: “A critical question for policy and psychiatric practice is whether suicide rises are inevitable.”
‘Policy potentially matters’
He told the BBC: “There’s a lot of good evidence showing recessions lead to rising suicides, but what is surprising is this hasn’t happened everywhere – Austria, Sweden and Finland.
“It shows policy potentially matters. One of the features of these countries is they invest in schemes that help people return to work, such as training, advice and even subsidised wages.
“There are always hard choices to make in a recession, but for me one of the things government does is provide support and protection for vulnerable groups – these services help people who are bearing the brunt of an economic crisis.”
Andy Bell, of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “The study says what we feared for some time: that unemployment, job insecurity and many other factors associated with the recession are associated with poor mental health and suicide.
“It reminds us how important it is to respond to that need and take preventative action where we can, and that primary care is properly resourced and able to identify people who are at risk.”
Beth Murphy, of the charity Mind, said: “Since 2008, we’ve seen an increasing number of people contact the Mind Infoline concerned about the impact of money and unemployment on their mental health.
“Redundancy and other life circumstances brought about by the recession can trigger depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts for anyone, whether they have previously experienced a mental health problem or not.
“For some people, these factors can become so difficult to cope with that suicide may feel like the only option.”
Source – BBC News, 12 June 2014