Secret Tory plans to slash sickness benefits for people unable to work have been leaked in a document, it has been reported today.
Tory ministers are considering slashing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by as much as £30 a week, affecting thousands of sick and disabled people.
The move would see the value of ESA for this group of jobseekers falling from £102.15 a week to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance – £73.10 a week for jobseekers over the age of 25.
Work Capability Assessments (WCA) would also be overhauled and renamed “Employment Capability Assessments”, to “focus attention on work seeking, not benefit seeking”, reports the Daily Mirror.
More than 60% of adverse Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions decisions made during the first three months of 2014 were against people with mental health issues or behavioral problems, new figures show.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a Freedom of Information Request, show that 9,851 adverse benefit sanctions decisions were made against ESA claimants with mental or behavioural disorders between January to March 2014.
This compares to:
- 508 adverse sanctions decisions against ESA claimants with diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
- 1,598 against those with diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
- 571 against people with diseases of the nervous system.
- 714 against people with injuries, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes.
- 2,727 against those with other health conditions or disabilities.
A DWP official said benefit sanctions are used to encourage people to “engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres, by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits”.
However, charities and medical experts say people with mental health issues, learning problems and behavioral disorders often struggle to understand what is required of them in return for their benefits. Following strict requirements can prove to be more difficult for these groups of people, without additional support and guidance.
Commenting on similar figures from November 2013, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said:
“We’re very concerned that an increasing number of people on ESA are having their benefits stopped, despite the fact that there are now fewer people in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).
“We know that around half of people in the WRAG need support because they have mental health problems, but over 60 per cent of sanctions are imposed on this group.”
“It is unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being disproportionately affected by this increasingly punitive system. This confirms our fears that people are being pressured to undertake activities that are inappropriate for them and are not having their mental health properly taken into account.”
“As a result people often become more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see people with mental health problems placed on a scheme which recognises and helps them overcome the challenges they face in finding and keeping a job.”
In total, there were 15,995 adverse ESA sanctions decisions between January to March 2014.
A cross-party report published earlier this week said the harsh use of punitive benefit sanctions is leading to rising numbers of people turning to food banks.
Commenting in response to the report, Salman Shaheen of Left Unity said:
“Sanctions mean that tiny mistakes can see people’s benefits stopped. Often people are given unclear instructions. Sometimes the rules suddenly change or appointments are moved. One slip-up and they join the ranks of the hungry.
“Every crackdown on benefits pushes more people into the food bank queues. Abolishing sanctions is the simple answer: no one should ever be left with no income to live on.
“We also need to raise benefits from their current poverty level. And it is vital to tackle in-work poverty by ending zero-hours contracts and raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 10 Dec 2014
A scandalous picture of suffering, trauma and destitution is painted by a former Work Programme adviser who was tasked with getting claimants off the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness benefit.
Speaking to the press for the first time since she quit the job last year, Anna Shaw (not her real name) says:
“Some of my clients were homeless, and very many of them had had their money stopped and were literally starving and extremely stressed. Many had extreme mental health conditions, including paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder and autism.
One guy [diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and homeless] came to see me for the first appointment and mentioned that he had not eaten for five days. I offered him my lunch, thinking he would refuse it out of pride, and he fell upon it like a wild animal. I’ve not seen a human being eat like that before.”
Shaw can only speak out anonymously, because when she resigned, after just a few months in the job, her employer made her sign a confidentiality clause.
She believed that the majority of her ESA caseload of about 100 clients were not well enough to have been on the government’s welfare-to-work Work Programme, but should instead have been signposted to charities that could support them with their multiple problems.
“Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me,” she says. Shaw says she received no training in working with people with mental health issues or physical disabilities.
Under the government’s welfare reforms, Shaw’s clients would have completed a controversial test, called the work capability assessment (WCA), currently conducted by contractor Atos, and been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA because they were judged capable of working, albeit with appropriate support.
Shaw’s employer was subcontracted by one of the 18 “prime providers” the government pays to implement its Work Programme to get jobless people into employment. However, Shaw says she was never given a copy of her clients’ WCA, which details their health conditions, so it was difficult to provide the support they needed.
Shaw thinks many of her ESA claimants wanted to work, but the “fundamental issues” – their physical and mental disabilities, often coupled with situations such as homelessness or domestic abuse – were not dealt with.
“Every person who came in needed specialist help on a whole range of things, and to be supported, not under imminent threat of losing their benefit the whole time.”
She believes many of her clients had been wrongly assessed as fit to work. “I had a woman with multiple sclerosis who had been domestically abused and was suffering from very severe depression and anxiety, and she had a degenerative condition and she was deemed fit for work,” she says. “I gave people advice under the radar about how to appeal … but it was absolutely not in our remit to encourage people to appeal.”
The most recent government figures (to June 2014) show that only 2% of longer-term ESA claimants find sustained employment. Independent research by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion has found that disabled people are about half as likely to find employment as non-disabled people. Last week, a report suggested that officials were considering cutting ESA, which is paid to around 2 million people, by as much as £30 a week as the chancellor, George Osborne, seeks a £12bn cut in the welfare bill.
Shaw says she was expected to enrol claimants on back-to-work courses.
“It was very much ticking boxes. My managers were just obsessed with compliance with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We would be penalised as an organisation if we didn’t sanction people who failed to show up… but with ESA they realised there was very little chance of getting these people into work. They were kind of parked.”
In the past year, sanctions for ESA claimants who fail to turn up for interviews with their job adviser have increased more than sevenfold. In each case, claimants lost at least one week of their benefit money, even if they said they were too ill to get to an appointment.
“One minute we had to sanction and the next minute we were told absolutely not to sanction,” says Shaw. “I think this was in response to [hostile coverage to sanctions in] the press… so the advice was given that we weren’t sanctioning them but we weren’t to let them know we weren’t sanctioning them… so they would come for appointments.”
According to one of Shaw’s former colleagues who is still working for the organisation, sanctioning has intensified.
“She said: ‘It’s got a lot worse since you left and now we’re having to sanction all the ESA claimants if they don’t turn up for appointments,’” says Shaw.
Two months ago, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, stated that the WP “revolutionises the way we provide support to those who are the hardest to help, supporting a move from dependency to independence and getting people into work so that they have financial security for the future”.
But Shaw’s revelations contradict the ministerial architect of welfare reform. She says:
“I felt that my job was really a non-job and as long as I ticked the boxes, they didn’t really care what I did with them… but they missed the point that these were actually human beings that I was coming into contact with, and going home every night wondering if these people were still alive.”
Shaw’s claims are backed up by a recent report, Fulfilling Potential, compiled by a WP client, Catherine Hale , with support from Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Of the 500 people on ESA who responded to an online survey, 82% said their WP provider made no effort to adapt jobs on offer or make it easier for them to work. Only 7% said their adviser had a copy of their WCA.
A spokesman for the DWP says Work Programme providers “have the freedom to design any work-related activity so it is appropriate to the person’s condition”, and the DWP “offers more money to providers for helping the hardest-to-help groups into work, such as people on ESA”.
But there is no breakdown of how much of the £1.37bn WP expenditure from June 2011 to 31 March 2014 was spent on helping ESA claimants. He insists that sanctions are “used only as a last resort” and “about 99% of ESA claimants don’t get a sanction”. He adds that the DWP is looking at how to share information about clients’ medical conditions with WP advisers.
Source – The Guardian, 05 Nov 2014
Ministers are considering making drastic cuts to the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), internal documents reveal.
Internal documents seen by the BBC reveal how ministers have ‘considered’ making draconian cuts to ESA payments for those claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
It is believed that the move would reflect how sick and disabled people in the WRAG are required to take steps toward future employment, even though they are currently thought of as ‘unfit for work’.
Sick and disabled people in the WRAG of ESA currently receive £28,75 a week more than JSA claimants, but papers seen by the BBC suggest that ministers have at least considered cutting this to just 50p more. The higher amount recognises additional costs incurred by sick and disabled people on a daily basis.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the proposals were not government policy. However, this doesn’t mean that such a policy would not be implemented in the future, or find its way into the Tories general election manifesto.
The documents also reveal how the the government has been forced to bring in an extra 100 fitness-for-work assessors to clear a backlog of more than 60,000 ESA claims. The extra assessors will be hired through the employment support and training agency Pertemps.
DWP is expected to announce the successor to Atos in the next few months, who pulled out of a contract to assess unemployed people for ESA in the wake of criticism about the accuracy of its assessments.
Speculation is mounting that the U.S firm Maximus will be picked as the preferred bidder for a contract worth £500 million over three and a half years.
ESA is claimed by around two million people and provides crucial financial support for those who, through no fault of their own, are too sick or disabled to be able to work.
Dame Anne Begg, chair of the commons work and pensions committee, said she would support reforms to ESA but not any reduction in the value of the benefit. She added:
“That’s not reform, that is just saving money. I hope that is not something the government is going to come forward with.”
> Why not ? It’s never stopped them in the past.
Click here to find out more (BBC News)
Source – Welfare Weekly, 30 Oct 2014
The controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents to the scheme, is still failing to help large numbers of unemployed people into permanent work, figures show.
Figures released today by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that less than one in ten (9.5%) Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, completing a year on the scheme, find work lasting at least three months. The DWP admits that outcomes are well below expected levels but standards appear to be improving from a low of 3.9% in June 2011.
For Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants on the programme the short to mid-term prognosis is little better. Around 20% of 18 to 24 year-olds find work lasting six months or more. The figure falls to one in six for those aged over 25 and other JSA groups. Minimum accepted levels set by the DWP are around 1 in 7 and 1 in 9 respectively.
In total 13.8% of Work Programme participants find work lasting six (JSA) or three (ESA) months upon completing the scheme.
The long-term prognosis for all those who take part on the Work Programme is extremely poor and shows that the scheme is failing to help unemployment people stay in work. Of those completing the programme (both ESA and JSA claimants) less than a quarter were still in work after two years. Around 70% returned to Jobcentres to rejoin the unemployment merry-go-round.
Only 29% of the most recent participants to complete two-years on the Work Programme had a minimum of three/six months in work.
Earlier this year a report from the IPPR said the Work Programme is ‘failing those most in need and should be broken up’.
It’s clear that the Work Programme is still failing to help the majority of unemployed people secure long-term permanent employment.
The low bar the DWP sets itself would appear to show that the government is prepared to accept a less than successful programme.
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 Sept 2014
Welfare News Service asked the Office for National Statistics (ONS):
Could you please verify as to whether ‘sanctioned’ Jobseekers in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (both income and contributory based) are included in official government statistics/datasets submitted to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in relation to UK unemployment. Could you also further clarify as to whether this remains the case in relation to Universal Credit?
Does this extend to ‘sanctioned’ ESA WRAG recipients?
Thank you for your recent request under the Freedom of Information Act regarding the effect of sanctions on UK unemployment statistics.
Unemployment in the UK is measured using the Labour Force Survey (LFS), consistent with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition. The LFS is a sample survey of people living in private households. The survey asks a series of questions about respondents’ personal circumstances and their activity in the labour market.
Through these questions every respondent is classified as in employment, unemployed or economically inactive, consistent with ILO definitions. The LFS and ILO defines an individual as unemployed if they are without work, available for work and seeking work. The UK applies this as ‘anybody who is not in employment and has actively sought work in the last 4 weeks and is available to start work in the next 2 weeks, or has found a job and is waiting to start in the next 2 weeks’, is considered to be unemployed.
As this data is gathered from a survey, the LFS, it is independent of whether or not the individual is claiming benefits, and therefore is not affected by sanctions.
If an individual who is in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance is meeting the above criteria they would also be counted as unemployed irrespective of whether they are being sanctioned or not. The same would also be true of any claimants of Universal Credit who meet this criteria.
ONS also publishes the Claimant Count, which is the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). People who are sanctioned are those who have an underlying entitlement to JSA, but have not followed the rules of the benefit scheme. People who are sanctioned do not automatically have their claim closed by DWP, but will not receive payment of JSA during the period of the sanction. Any live sanctioned claim, where the individual continues to sign on, would continue to be included within the Claimant Count. However, if they choose not to sign-on during their sanction period, their claim will be closed, as would be the case generally if a claimant fails to sign on – and as such would not be included in the Claimant Count.
Currently the Claimant Count estimates do not include any claimants of Universal Credit. ONS will include jobseeker Universal Credit claims in the Claimant Count statistics as soon as possible. The absence of Universal Credit claimants currently has a small effect on the Claimant Count for the UK.
We’re still waiting for the DWP to respond to our FOI.
Source – Welfare News Service, 09 Sept 2014
Employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) are being subjected to a massively increased sanctions regime that deliberately targets the most vulnerable. Sanctions, primarily aimed at claimants on the work programme who have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, have quadrupled in the course of a year, even though referrals to the programme have fallen by 43%.
The number of sanctions rose from 1,102 a month in December 2012 to 4,789 a month in December 2013, the most recent date figures are available for.
The vast majority of sanctions are imposed for failing to participate in work-related activity whilst on the work programme, which thousands of ESA claimants are forced to join every month in spite of overwhelming evidence that it does not improve their chances of getting a job.
The massive rise in sanctions, however, cannot be explained by a sudden huge surge in the number of claimants in the WRAG.
In fact, the number of claimants in the WRAG increased by just 21% between November 2012 to November 2013, from 460,160 to 558,960.
Indeed, between August and November 2013 the number of claimants in the WRAG actually fell slightly, from 562,620 to 558,960. Yet the number of claimants sanctioned in this period shot up by a staggering 75% from 2,193 to 3,837.
Nor can the rise in sanctions be explained by a corresponding increase in the numbers of ESA claimants being forced onto the work programme.
In fact, the rate at which ESA claimants get pushed onto the work programme has fallen dramatically over the same period. 8,290 claimant were put onto the work programme in December 2012. This fell to just 4,700 in December 2013, a drop of 43%.
Yet sanctions increased fourfold.
And the main targets of those sanctions are claimants with mental health conditions or learning difficulties. Back in April we pointed out that the proportion of this group receiving a sanction had risen from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to a massive 58% by June 2013.
That figure has now increased again to 62% in December 2013, even though claimants with these conditions make up just 50% of the work-related activity group.
Also back in April the DWP told us:
“It’s only right that people should do everything they can to move off benefits and into work if they are able. Sanctions are only used as a last resort and we have robust procedures in place to protect vulnerable people, with a number of safeguards built into the system.
Yet many people will wonder, if sanctions are only being used as a last resort, what possible explanation there can be for the sudden massive increase in the number being handed out?
And if safeguards are built into the system, why are claimants with mental health conditions increasingly over-represented on the roster of sanctioned individuals?
The DWP also told us in April:
“Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision if they disagree with it.”
Which is entirely true. But a Citizens Advice Scotland report on sanctions released yesterday reveals that “many people who are hit by a sanction are not told the reason for it, or how to appeal against it”.
The DWP have good reason to keep people in the dark about their appeal rights. According to the ‘Fulfilling potential? ESA and the fate of the work-related activity group’ report released last month by Mind, tribunals now uphold almost nine out of ten ESA and JSA sanctions appeals.
Such a huge proportion of overturned decisions is ample proof of the savagery of the sanctions regime. But for many people, especially vulnerable claimants suddenly struggling to survive on drastically reduced benefits and no longer able to get legal aid for help with tribunals, coping with the complex new appeal system is an impossibility.
According to the Mind report, written by Catherine Hale, – herself an ESA claimant:
“ . . . findings suggest that the regime of conditionality and sanctions has left participants in the WRAG fearful , demoralised and further away from achieving their work-related goals or participating in society than when they started.”
The report also found that in 87% of cases of claimants failing to participate in a mandatory work-related activity, the reason was related to their health condition, including 19% who had missed an activity because of a medical appointment.
Such cynical targeting of vulnerable claimants is clearly counter-productive in terms of moving them off benefits and into work.
But there is one very likely explanation for the increasing use of sanctions.
Leaked documents obtained by the BBC last month revealed that the DWP expect the cost of ESA to rise by almost £13bn by 2018/19. The documents warn that the increase is “one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government” and could cause it to breach its self-imposed benefits cap.
One of the documents also warns that, in terms of cutting costs, there is “not much low-hanging fruit left“.
ESA claimants with mental health conditions are, however, one remaining low-hanging fruit that IDS and his increasingly vicious and shambolic department are determined to pluck as heavily and as quickly as they possibly can.
Source – Benefits & Work, 01 July 2014
A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems.
All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just 5% of respondents move into work, while 60% of people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut.
The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult.
80% of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70% were worried about their benefits being cut.
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem.
For most people (90%), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment.
“The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work.
“It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes.”
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems.
“There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
“We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
The report has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society.
Read Catherine Hale’s report here
Mind is promoting a campaign in support of changes to the current system, which you can read about and sign up to here
Source – Benefits & Work, 12 June 2014
> You might find these extracts from the PCS union website of interest regarding the latest ‘Help To Work‘ nonsense….
This circular provides an update on the new increased conditionality regime from the end of April, and advice for PCS branches.
The Government is introducing increased conditionality measures from 28 April 2014 for JSA and lone parent claimants, and for or UC claimants from summer 2014. Although some measures will be phased in up to December 2014.
> “some measures will be phased in up to December 2014” – at the very least, I should think. I suppose this refers to the fact that the scheme is launched before they’ve actually got anyone on board to run it.
Advisers have now been re-branded as “Work Coaches” and Job search review/Assistant Advisers are now to be called “Assistant Work Coaches”.
> If in doubt, give everyone pointless new titles – it may give the impression that you are doing something. Work coaches – I ask you ! I really hope the ex-advisers are cringing at the prospect.
PCS has concerns that the department does not have adequate resources in place to cope with the new levels of work. The new measures appear to be aimed at ‘frustrating’ claimants off benefit, something the DWP was recently criticised for in the recent select committee report into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare state.
> ‘frustrating’ claimants off benefit’ – well yes, we’ve already figured that out. The trouble is, there’s no use PCS moaning when so many of their members seem quite happy – even enthusiastic – about enforcing these tactics. Now they’re really going to find out what ‘work‘ is all about.
This covers five elements of Day One Conditionality, Weekly Work Search Reviews, Quarterly Work Search Interviews, English Language Requirements and Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality.
An additional 12 minutes has been assigned to the initial new claims interview to complete the day one conditionality and English language requirements.
Day One Conditionality
Claimants using JSA Online will receive a message outlining Day One Conditionality Claimants will be required to demonstrate “positive job-seeking behaviours” from day one of their claim to benefit.
Day One Conditionality introduces an expectation for the claimant to create a Profile and Public CV in Universal Jobmatch; or create a CV and email account that can be used for employment purposes, if the claimant is not yet able to create a profile and Public CV within Universal Jobmatch.
These requirements and can be mandated by issuing a Jobseeker’s Direction, Conditionality is subject to a phased introduction between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014.
Increasing Lone Parent Conditionality (ILPC)
From April 2014 changes will apply to lone parents who are entitled to Income Support (IS); or claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)
Currently lone parents who are entitled to IS must attend regular Work-focused Interviews (WFIs) once their youngest child reaches the age of one. From April 2014 the frequency and duration of WFIs for this group of claimants will be determined by Advisers.
Work Related Activity (WRA) is also being introduced for ESA (WRAG) and IS lone parents with a youngest child aged 3 and over. From 28 April 2014 an easement in regulations has been introduced to prevent more than one sanction being applied in any two week period
Weekly Work Search Reviews
Weekly Work Search Reviews are subject to a phased introduction between 28 April 2014 and 31 October 2014. This applies to 50% of the live load, excluding Work Programme participants and claimants receiving support from the Help to Work Package. Claimants should be selected at Work Coach discretion. Claimants may be moved on and off Weekly Work Search Review. The 50% ratio is reviewed and monitored across each District.
English Language Requirements
A screening aide will be available to assist Work Coaches in identifying claimants whose English language speaking and listening skills are below E2. Once identified, the Work Coach will mandate the claimant to a provider assessment, using the Skills Conditionality referral process.
If any Day One Conditionality activity is appropriate to the claimant but their English Language is a barrier to them completing it, the English Language barrier would need to be addressed first. The DWP recognise that individual claimants will learn at different speeds, often with varying starting levels of spoken English. The average length of time they take to complete English Language Training is expected to vary between 7 and 20 weeks.
Quarterly Work Search Interviews
Twenty minute Quarterly Work Search Interview are being introduced to review the claimant’s jobsearch activities in the previous quarter, including updating the Claimant Commitment and widening jobsearch activities.
> Widening jobsearch activities ? Dont like the sound of that much…probably means having to apply for even more jobs you know you wont get in order to hit increased targets.
Help to Work (HtW)
Equal numbers of claimants are expected to be assigned to each of the three Help to Work Package measures:
> The word ‘assigned’ appears to suggest that we wont have any say in what we get stuck with. No doubt our Work Coach will have targets for each option and you’ll just get stuck with whatever they’re not meeting their targets on.
Mandatory Intervention Regime
This is the current support for claimants who have completed the Work Programme. The first 8 weeks of the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR) is known as the Assessment Phase. During this 8 week phase Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements. Claimants can only be allocated to Community Work Placements or Daily Work Search Reviews during the Assessment Phase
> Work Coaches can decide to place the claimants – yep, you dont get a choice.
Daily Work Search Review
The claimant will be required to attend the Jobcentre daily for up to 13 weeks to review jobseeking activities of the previous day and provide a labour market declaration signature.
Every 4 weeks the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed.
Claimants are entitled to reimbursement of travel costs incurred to attend additional WSR. To enable claimants to attend Daily WSR, it is accepted that payment in advance, particularly in the form of weekly bus / rail travel tickets and passes may be appropriate.
> Every 4 weeks the claimant’s attendance schedule must be changed – ???
Community Work Placements
External provision will consist of a work placement that is of benefit to the community for up to 30 hours a week and supplemented by up to 10 hours jobsearch. If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months they will be transferred to MIR.
> If the claimant is still in receipt of JSA/UC after six months they will be transferred to MIR. – where your Work Coach can decide to place the claimants in Daily Work Search Reviews or Community Work Placements. Back to square one, in other words.
Although a meeting is planned for 24th April, PCS has not yet been consulted over key issues such as appropriate resourcing and the health and safety risk assessment.
There should also be consultation with trade union sides at district and local level, as well as consultation as part of the risk assessment process. PCS has pressed that this is made explicitly mandatory; given reports received that district management are going ahead with changes without engaging with the unions.
The Group Executive Committee (GEC) has raised concerns over the department’s capacity to deliver the additional work and cope with the increased footfall of up to 60%. 620 WSD staff will be leaving Job centres in June through the VES scheme with no one to replace them.
> Oh dear, oh dear… more claimants, fewer staff. Can anyone see the flaw in this plan ?
However DWP believe that current staffing levels are appropriate, as jobcentre staffing was due to be reduced by 10% which matches the numbers needed to deliver SR13 and HtW. The re-grading of the CSM post also delivers a significant cost saving. The GEC have pressed DWP for more staff, and believe jobcentres are at a crisis point in terms of staffing, workloads, safety and space.
The introduction of further attendance brings in an even stricter conditionality regime. The GEC is deeply concerned for the safety of PCS members facing the brunt of the public’s anger at this policy.
> Damn right !
Reports have been received that attendance times should be changed on every occasion, in order to ‘frustrate claimants off benefit’ which bears a resemblance to the hotly denied and lambasted ‘Botherability’. Group Officers need to be informed if this message is being relayed in offices, reps should challenge management locally and escalate.
> A different time every day ? you can just imagine the planning meeting – “hey guys, how could we make this situation even more chaotic ?‘
PCS opposes further attacks on benefit claimants
PCS believes that SR13 and HtW are not intended to offer further help to claimants, as the introduction of further mandation and attendance is clearly aimed at trying to set claimants up to fail. It is part of the politically motivated agenda the Government has of vilifying benefit claimants, rather than offering genuinely tailored support.
The DWP received criticism from the Select Committee in January over their off-flow target based approach, however, these new measures are politically driven policy which civil servants have been instructed to implement.
> But they don’t have to implement them. The old ‘Nuremberg Defence’ (I was only obeying orders) was never a valid one. But for fuck’s sake – PCS, YOU ARE A UNION. YOU CAN TAKE ACTION. Stop your members taking it out on the ‘customers‘ and take on the government instead. You may need to grow a spine first, though.
PCS campaigns against the stricter benefit and conditionality regime, we believe our members are best placed to help benefit claimants when they are given adequate time and discretion to truly identify the support needed, not by fostering hostility through draconian and punitive practices.
> So do something about it !
Branches are asked to ensure they are fully involved in consultation and the risk assessment processes, and issues are appropriately escalated. The introduction of the new measures should be phased until October and December 2014 to ensure there are appropriate resources and systems in place. There should be no ‘big bang’ approach. Risk assessments should be used to identify for a potential increase in CSMs and G4S security guards.
> a potential increase in CSMs and G4S security guards – hey, more government cash for G4S… now who would have expected that ?
Source: PCS website 24 April 2014
Unemployed lone parents could to be forced into mandatory unpaid work placements as part of fresh changes to benefits coming into force from the 28th April 2014.
Lone parents in receipt of Income Support who have a child between the age of 3-4 will be required to undertake ‘mandatory work related activity’ “to better prepare them for the full work-related requirements they will face when their child turns 5”.
The changes will also apply to lone parents in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ (WRAG) of the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Local authority childcare schemes will be made available to allow the changes to come into effect and help free up lone parents to partake in the new requirements. Up to fifteen hours of free childcare will be available for those affected.
Income Support claimants with a child between the age of 1-4 will also be required to take part in work focused interviews at their nearest Jobcentre. The time and duration ‘will be tailored to the needs of the lone parent’.
Failure to comply with the changes – without good cause – could result in lone parents having their benefits cut or stopped completely (sanctioned). The level of the cut will begin at 20% but could increase to 100% for ‘further failures’. However, only one Income Support cut will be permitted in a two-week period.
It has also been announced this week that jobseeker’s who have been out of work for over three years, and who have already taken part in the government’s controversial Work Programme, will be required to undertake community work placements for up to 30 hours per week. They will also be expected to spend 10 hours per week looking for work.
The DWP has given the example of “clearing up litter and graffiti in local areas” which has previously been reserved for community volunteers and criminal offenders.
> Which is a pretty good indication of how our betters regard the unemployed – criminals who need to be punished. For their own good, you understand…
My contention is that if you have to work for benefits, then they are no longer benefits – they’re wages, and wages below the National Minimum Wage at that.
In this instance, failure to comply will result in jobseeker’s having their benefits cut for four weeks which could extend to several months for repeat offenders.
New Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants will also have to wait 7 days before they become entitled for the unemployment benefit.
We have been informed that once a lone parent with a child over the age of 3 ‘volunteers’ for participation in the government’s ‘Work Programme’, that participation then becomes ‘mandatory’.
Source – Welfare News Service, 02 April 2014