Monday, 22 October 2012

Changes to Jobseeker's Allowance

In September the numbers out of work and claiming JSA were 1.567M people, which is a decline of 4,000 on the previous month. Real unemployment stands approximately a million higher than this, and a further two million have taken on part-time work while seeking a full-time job. The total number of people in employment (irrespective of the character of the job and hours worked) is just under 29.6 million, up 510,000 on this time last year. The fact that employment can be up and economic activity down says all you need to know about the pay many of these occupations offer.

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 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.
Recipients of ESA are seeing their benefit hit with similar sanctions:
Changes to Employment and Support Allowance sanctions
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.
As 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.

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.


Boffy said...

The problem with the last proposal, Phil, is that it sounds a bit like the economy of the old USSR and eastern Europe i.e. people being provided with what were really none jobs.

If there is really no demand for the goods or services that these workers then produce then this amounts as Marx demonstrated, to being not "socially necessary labour-time", it and the labour-time involved in the constnt capital used by these workers, is then essentially wasted and destroyed.

Yet, these means of production, and the wages of the workers involved in this non-necessary labour-time have to be paid by somebody. In reality, under Capitalism that means by other workers in higher taxes. In the end it was this kind of thing that both turned workers in Britain and elsewhere off nationalised industries, and also collapsed the economies of eastern Europe, and other statised economies.

We need workers being involved in what it is they want produced, and also in the process of employing workers to produce them. In short we need something like Service Commissioning Co-ops for things like Public Housing, Health Services, Education and so on. They need to have resources to spend on these services. We then need Worker Co-operatives to provide serices such as housing construction, health, education, social care and so on (some of these alredy exist, but we need them to be democratised and worker owned and controlled). Then unemployed workers can be given real jobs, on proper wages.

Paul Mason's account of how Spanish workers are occuping land, and beginning to farm it, is an example of the way to go. The example of the way the US Steel Workers have formed an alliance with the Mondragon Co-ops, to take over firms across North America, and turn them into worker owned co-ops, is also along the right lines. In the US, quite significant numbers of workers who were facing job losses have already saved their jobs and established profitable companies down this route.

Phil said...

A guaranteed job? Where from?

What we need is a return of the philosophy that the government doesn't let people starve - even nasty idle people who you wouldn't want living next-door to you. That basic sense of social responsibility evaporated under Thatcher, and New Labour wasn't the one to bring it back.

Phil said...

Hi Boffy, I agree with you on co-ops. I am certainly not not interested in repeating the problems that bedevilled the bureaucratically planned economies of the East. Perhaps the way of going about it is through some socialist outsourcing along the lines you're suggesting. Rather than the heavy hand of the state or profiteering incompetents like A4E being responsible for running it, the agency responsible for providing work could be set up along cooperative lines and focus itself on socially useful labour.

Given the numbers of public services being shut down, I have no doubt work of this nature is 'objectively' available.

Phil said...

The need is there, Phil. Society has the resources to pay that work too.

Under the sketchy proposal here, the social contracyt works something like this: people who are unemployed are expected to seek work, and society reciprocates by supporting them in the mean time and, after a period of time, provides work. Responsibility is always a two-way street.

Boffy said...


I agree. Some time ago I put forward an idea that the Trades Unions should establish their own Employment Agency. That means that, this Agency would then be a monopoly supplier of Labour Power.

It means that it would refuse to supply labour-power to employers who did not pay a living wage, or TU rates of pay. It was the idea behind Robert Owen's General Consolidated Trade Union, and is similar to the IWW idea of One Big Union.

But, to work it really must have something like a monopoly i.e. the vast majority of workers have to sign up with this agency. The benefits of doing so are obvious, and the more succesful it was, the more obvious they would be. The problems are also obvious.

Workers will only sign up if it can provide them with that well paid work, or an equivalent income. So, it would require considerable funds to sustain workers when not in employment. As I've said in the past this is where I see a role for the Trades Unions getting control of workers Pension Funds, so that these massive funds can be used in this way. But, its also where establishing Co-ops comes in, and I see an important role in relation to your latest blog on regeneration.

Local Communities/neighbourhoods could utilise existing organisations - TRA's, neighbourhood Watch, Housing Co-ops - to establish commissioning Co-ops for work that needs to be done. The TU Employment Agency could supply local worker owned Co-ops with unemployed labour, or else provide these workers with employment directly doing the jobs required like street cleaning, grounds maintenance, repairs and construction and so on. They could also provide training where necessary.

I'm sure that some would argue about Workfare and so on, but I think it is quite different for local workers organisations providing jobs and welfare support to require members of their community to do reasonably paid work where it can be provided, than it is for the Capitalist State to do this to provide profits for Capital.

It is a necessary element of building a workers alternative to Capital, and would apply as much under a Workers State, as it does under Worker owned Co-operative production and provision.