From the TUC

Benefit Sanctions in the White Paper

11 Nov 2010, by in Society & Welfare

Well, I suppose I should know by now, when they’re launching a new social security policy Ministers always soften the ground by briefing journalists that this is going to be the definitive crackdown on ‘scroungers’ and the ‘workshy’. I’d got used to it with the last government and discounted two-thirds of what they said at times like this.

There is genuinely shocking news about sanctions in today’s White Paper – the increase in duration of sanctions to up to three years is going to mean extraordinary levels of hardship in some families. And the worry I had this morning about families being forced to break up to protect the children is still very much a concern.

But I shouldn’t have paid so much attention to two proposals in the leaks that I can now see were designed specifically to upset people like me:

  • Abolition of the right to appeal against benefits being suspended. When the last government engaged in this sort of kite-flying they used to have some tenuous link to the truth, but it looks as if journalists were told the government planned something quite contrary to the actual proposals: “recipients will continue to have the ability to appeal.” (para 15)
  • Cutting back on (or abolishing) hardship payments. Here the White Paper is a little ambiguous, saying that “as now hardship payments will be available to benefit recipients in need who receive a sanction” but adding that they are looking at ways of tightening up this system. These include replacing the payments with loans – which would increase the debt burden carried by these families.

The fact that the White Paper is not introducing these measures is a relief, but it still has enough nasties to shiver over for some time. In addition to the extended duration of benefit penalties, there’s workfare and, as Nicola has pointed out, the Universal Credit looks likely to introduce a much steeper taper than tax credits have – many thousands of people stand to face much higher marginal tax rates and many of them will have much lower net incomes.

But what disgusts me about today’s exercise isn’t that the political world has tried to mislead the rest of us – dog bites man – but the way in which unemployed people are used as a punch bag. In the lead-up to this White Paper we’ve had endless articles about how the “workshy” are going to get their comeuppance and the constant refrain has been that we’ve got too many people out of work (I agree) and the answer is to get tough with them (couldn’t be more wrong.) The situation we face at the moment is that there are more than five unemployed people chasing every job vacancy – you could threaten unemployed people with summary execution but eighty per cent would still fail to get jobs.

The government that abolished the Future Jobs Fund has no right to lecture anyone else about the evils of unemployment and no government has the right to pick on the people who are paying the price of the recession but had nothing to do with causing it.

4 Responses to Benefit Sanctions in the White Paper

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    Nov 11th 2010, 8:17 pm

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  2. Chris
    Nov 12th 2010, 1:15 am

    The tories will go after that mythical army of welfare scroungers more and more as the sadistic cuts to public services get harder to call efficiency savings/cover up. And the kulaks will lap it up never mind their child’s school has sacked all the support staff, never mind their grannies carer has been sacked. At least those mythical scroungers are suffering more than them.

  3. Clare Fernyhough
    Nov 12th 2010, 4:32 pm

    You’re right; how can a government penalise people for not finding work if there is genuinely no work available (oh, I forgot, you’re supposed to uproot your whole family and move to an area where you just might find work)? Surely the jobs should be created prior to any sanctions becoming effective? That said, the white paper seems to suggest that the implementation of sanctions, as now, will be at the discretion of benefit officers, those best placed to know the personal circumstances of those in their caseload.

    I was also shocked about hardship payments being made as loans; this is tantamount to a fine. I am sure I read somewhere else in the document that £50 fines, raised by benefit officers not the courts, will also be applied to claimants falling foul of certain rules.

    As for the 10% cut in JSA for those who cannot find a job, during the debate after IDS’ speach, he seemed to suggest that if a claimant had done their level best to find employment without success, benefit officers could again use their discretion as to whether the reduction in benefit is applied: anything else would be equivalent to punishment just for being unemployed and an absolute disgrace.

    Facing that fate myself if I am moved out of the support group of ESA and having claimed JSA previously, I know that this will mean starvation and debt; since I will never work again, this time there will be no way out for me. I am ashamed to live in a supposedly civilized country that treats the poor in this manner.

  4. Brian Day
    Nov 12th 2010, 7:29 pm

    I am at a loss as to when these reforms will take place. Is it 2013/14 or from next April? I would love a job – any full-time job. I have been unemployed since March. So, if I don’t get a job by March next year, I could lose £32 a month Housing Benefit, to add to the £8 top-up I make? I WANT A JOB! As an unemployed graduate – I graduated since 2008 – employers and recruitment agencies seem to enjoy having a good laugh at me, thinking “Look where your degree got you? We don’t want some clever clogs!” The Jobcentre advisors talk down at me, as though it is my fault that I am still unemployed. It is only my Christian faith that keeps me going, knowing that I am better than those recruitment consultants who dismiss me without even an interview!