Government policy on forced work is a distraction from Jobcentre cuts
Yesterday we heard that ‘scroungers will be forced to work in a tough new crackdown‘ (Daily Star), a headline that was tastefully juxtoposed next to a story about offenders being forced to undertake unpaid cleaning work on the underground. This new initiative is a mean policy, which will give Jobcentre advisers the right to require claimants who are fully compliant with the JSA regime to undertake a four week unpaid work placement. Childcare costs will not be provided, there will be no training and all the evidence suggests the impact is most likely to be that fewer, not more, unemployed people find work (as they have less time to engage in jobsearch and are more likely to simply drop out of the system). But scandalous as this new approach is, the bigger story is that overall levels of support provided by Jobcentre Plus are about to fall off a cliff.
Spending cuts mean that Jobcentre Plus staff are already being cut – despite unemployment remaining persistently high with just under 1.5 million on the claimant count, close to double the pre-recession levels. And while the Government has been making ongoing announcements about new schemes the facts are that the amount of support on offer is about to see a significant reduction. For example, the new ‘work experience’ programme is only available to a maximum of 73,000 young people a year (with far fewer participants likely), aged between 18-21. Compare this to the existing (but soon to be pulled) 6 month offer for young people which offered 400,000 plus options over a 15 month period. Even the Mandatory Work scheme is (thankfully) only available for 10,000 claimants nationally.
With Jobcentre support being cut, a huge population of long-term incapacity benefit claimants about to be moved onto JSA and economic growth no where near strong enough to create significant numbers of jobs there’s an important question to be answered about how the Work Programme (available for people who have been unemployed for over 12 months) will operate. With leaks suggesting that contract volumes will be less than under Labour’s schemes, while all the evidence suggests that the number of unemployed people needing help will be higher, it seems inevitable that there will either be significant numbers of people who spend 12 months on JSA who have to wait to gain Work Progamme entry or that the Jobcentre will have to find another way of removing benefit claimants from their books – could the harsh new sanction regime have a role to play here? Watch this space for more sanctions being handed out more quickly as the Government attempts to keep claimant unemployment (and Work Programme entries) down by removing claimants from the register. Am I being cynical? Maybe. But in current circumstances it’s hard not to be.