A day after it was announced that unemployment had risen by 44,000 to just under 2.5 million, or 7.9% of the workforce (rising to over 20% for 18 to 24 year olds), the government has launched its Welfare Reform bill plan, with the mantra ‘make work pay’. The plan aims to amalgamate several benefits into a new ‘universal benefit’, although it is not entirely clear which benefits, or how exactly the new benefit will operate.
Plans to reduce Housing Benefit by 10% for those claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) for over twelve months, which I reported here on this blog, have been scrapped though, and the government insists that no one will be worse off under the new arrangements. I think this is a highly dubious claim, but it is difficult to prove one way or the other at this stage, with details of the changes being too vague to make accurate calculations.
One definite proposal is that those ‘refusing to work’ face a maximum three-year loss of benefits, although how people are meant to survive in this event is less clear, but I think we can expect an increase in crime as one of the consequences. This particular proposal, which will no doubt attract plenty of popularist support, with phrases like ‘workshy’ and ‘scroungers’ doing the rounds, is not as black and white as it is being portrayed.
I worked on a short term (15 month) contract at Jobcentreplus which expired just before Christmas last year, which took in the Labour government and now ConDem government regimes, so I am well placed to compare the two administration’s approaches to unemployment.
Under Labour, the service was largely target, rather than customer focused, but the targets were mainly based around getting people off JSA and back into work. They did though arm the Jobcentre Advisors with some tools to help people get into work. Things like work focused training courses at local colleges were available, free of charge to claimants, and a daily lunch allowance for those who undertook ‘work trial’ opportunities with employers. There was also a discretionary fund which could be used to pay for things like security badges for those wanting to work in security, which is a minimum requirement for work in that sector.
Under the ConDem government, all of the advisor’s tools were systematically taken away, to the point that I felt there was very little I could offer clients in the way of positive help. The target for getting people into work was incredibly abolished, but new targets, of taking people’s benefit off them for not trying hard enough to find work, were introduced. We were encouraged to find jobs that clients could do, and print them off for them. Then we were told to check whether they had applied for these jobs, and if they hadn’t, they were to be referred for ‘not actively seeking employment’, and ran the risk of having their benefit stopped for a maximum then of two years. There might be good reasons why the person didn’t apply for a particular job, maybe when they thought about it when they got home, they reflected that they didn’t have the skills or experience for the job, but that wasn’t an acceptable excuse.
The regime became much more negatively sanctions focused, rather than positively helping claimants, all stick and no carrot under the ConDems. It sounds as though the regime is about to get more brutal, at a time when the government’s own policies are to blame for the lack of job opportunities, not those claiming JSA. At the same time this government is reducing tax inspectors and increasing benefit fraud investigators, although vastly more is lost to the public purse in tax evasion than in benefit fraud.
Same old story I’m afraid, make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. The nasty party are back in government.
The video/song above is ‘One in Ten’ by 1980’s UK reggae band UB40.