From today, if you’re out of work and claiming JSA or Employment Support Allowance, a raft of tough new sanctions and expectations come into force. According to the blurb circulated prefacing the announcement, we are told:
The Government expects people on benefit to take up the help and support available through Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme so they can move off benefit and into work … The benefit system has to be fair to people who pay into it through taxation, as well as supporting those who cannot work due to ill-health or who have limited capability for work.Apparently, JSA recipients will receive leaflets through the post explaining the changes in more detail. These are, in detail:
Higher level sanctionsRecipients of ESA are seeing their benefit hit with similar sanctions:
Payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop if claimants:
- leave a job voluntarily or due to misconduct
- fail to attend a Mandatory Work Activity programme
- are not available for a suitable employment opportunity, or
- refuse or fail to apply for a suitable job
They could lose their benefit for 13, 26 or 156 weeks (three years), depending on how many times they have failed to meet any of these responsibilities in the last 52 weeks.
Intermediate level sanctions
Payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance will stop and they will no longer qualify for Jobseekers allowance if, during their claim, they:
- do not actively seek work ; or
- are not available for work
Benefit will remain disallowed until they do what they have been asked to do. Upon undertaking what they were asked to do they may be sanctioned for a maximum of four weeks for a first failure rising to 13 weeks for second and subsequent failure within a 52 week period.
Lower level sanctions
Payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop if they:
- fail to attend an adviser interview
- fail to take part in an Employment, Skills and Enterprise programme
- fail to comply with a Jobseeker direction
- do not take the opportunity of a place on a programme or training course, or refuse, fail to attend, or lose through misconduct a place on a programme or training course.
They could lose their benefit for four weeks the first time and for 13 weeks for any further times they do not meet these responsibilities in a 52 week period.
Changes to Employment and Support Allowance sanctionsAs a general rule I accept the principle that unemployment benefit is an element of the social contract, that society affords maintenance payments to the out of work on the understanding they seek employment. Unfortunately, the system the Tories have introduced is overly punitive, unfair, and seeks to penalise recipients for having the temerity to claim. Conditioning these measures is the default policy assumption unemployed folk are lazy good-for-nothings who stay in bed, hang round drinking, or watch (and appear!) on Jeremy Kyle at the tax payers’ expense. With this reasoning in play how a ‘suitable job’ or a ‘suitable opportunity’ is defined without any rigour. Also lacking is clarity over what “voluntarily” leaving a job means. I suspect the DWP does issue guidelines to its decision makers and some Job Centre advisors, but there's a lot of leeway given to separate the deserving from underserving claimants.
Regulations planned to come into force in December 2012 will introduce a revised sanctions regime for ESA (WRAG) claimants.
If a claimant has been placed in the Work-Related Activity Group and they do not attend or take part in a work-focused interview, or do not carry out work-related activity without a good reason, their ESA may be reduced by £71.00 per week. The additional amount they are paid for being in the work related activity group and any premiums they may be entitled to will continue to be paid in full until they attend the interview or carry out the activity.
Their ESA may also be reduced for one, two or four more weeks after they attend the interview or do the work-related activity. This depends on whether they have already had their ESA reduced in the previous 52 weeks.
Successive governments and the press have scored a victory on welfare that will be hard to come back from. Despite the prevalence of unemployment among the young and women in general, “getting tough” on benefits is a standard feature of received political wisdom and one that enjoys widespread popularity. No party is going to win votes with manifesto commitments to more generous benefits and an easing of sanctions.
Instead, the left must stake out and win a new high ground on welfare. It is not enough to make the case that unemployment has systemic causes and that the benefit changes will consign whole families of the working poor to the abyss. We need to look again at the role of the state in the labour market to rebalance the social contract. A good starting point for a rethink would be to supplement the various training available with a guaranteed job after a period of unemployment.