From the TUC

Benefit sanctions for low-paid workers

25 Mar 2015, by Guest in Society & Welfare

In January this year, in a move that received little media coverage at the time, this government introduced secondary legislation that would enable them to extend benefit sanctions to low paid workers who aren’t doing ‘enough’ to earn more money.

Sanctions – the withholding of benefits – have been applied on an industrial scale under this government to the benefits of unemployed people. The number of stories where the use of sanctions would be comedic if not so cruel has been growing, with broken limbs and the death of loved ones proving not to be a barrier to their application. Over the past two years over 2 million sanctions decisions have been applied; they are cruel, create hardship and have been linked with a number of deaths, including that of David Clapson, a vulnerable diabetic ex-soldier who died starving and destitute in 2013 because he was sanctioned after missing a meeting.

Last Thursday his sister, Gill Thompson, handed in her 211,800 name petition to the DWP calling for an investigation into the widespread use of sanctions. It was part of national day of action against sanctions organised by Unite Community – it saw stalls, pickets and die-ins across the country outside Job Centres. It was also supported by PCS, the union representing those working in Job Centres.

The revulsion at how the sanctions regime has been used stretches well beyond the labour movement. In January the Employment Related Services Association (ESRA) who represent the work programme providers said that “…. for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment”. Earlier this month, the Churches were damning of their use, arguing that “The design of the sanctions system includes both the threat and the use of hunger as an instrument of policy” and that their use is inhumane and erodes dignity.

It is within this context that the government wants to extend their sanctions regime to low-paid workers. It has proved difficult to get much information out of the DWP on what such ‘in work conditionality’ would look like. Ester McVey ‘answered’ questions about how the regime would work when she appeared before the Parliamentary Committee looking at this legislation. She said that the DWP was going to trial in work sanctions where those on low earnings – less than £12,000 a year on average –  who “could reasonably be expected to earn more” would be ‘supported’ to increase their earnings, and sanctions would be used as part of this ‘support’. Unite, and others, have been asking for more information about how this would operate. Last Thursday we received a reply from the DWP stating that from April 2015 randomised trials would be run in 10 Jobcentre Plus sites, testing;

“providing Work Coach support, at a level to 60 per cent of that provided to out of work claimants, to each low-earning claimant to set relevant goals and actions, to try and help them earn more;

Making requirements mandatory and sanctionable by testing the impact of different intervention frequencies (fortnightly against bi-monthly”

It remains unclear, and we have asked the DWP for further information on, what will be included in a Claimant Commitment for those in work, what ‘goals’ and ‘actions’ will be set for people that will then be a determining factor in someone being sanctioned.

There is currently no public information on how the trials will work, their timeline and how they will be assessed. There is no information on the extra workload that will accrue to Job Centres that are already overstretched. There is also absolutely no mention of the role of employers in increasing earnings, and reversing the growth of low paid, low skilled, insecure and precarious work that we have seen take hold in our labour market.

It is a real possibility that people will become trapped between a sanctions regime and an employer whose business model is based on exploitative, low paid insecure work and therefore has no desire to increase the earnings of workers. If the government really wanted to increase earnings this is where it would focus its energy – on raising the national minimum wage and improving the trade union and employment rights that enable people to organise for better pay. Instead it rather cynically feels that this is about punishing individuals so that the government can appear tough on driving down social security costs, irrespective of the human cost. Is this where some of the £12bn welfare cuts is to come from?

SIGN PETITION: Reform the Cruel Sanctions Regimes

The DWP’s harsh benefit sanctions regime has pushed Jobcentres towards a culture of harassment, not help. The TUC has started a petition to be given to the next Secretary of State for Work and Pensions after the election, asking them to immediately establish the review called for by the cross-party Work and Pensions  Committee. Please sign petition

9 Responses to Benefit sanctions for low-paid workers

  1. Nick Clark
    Mar 25th 2015, 3:13 pm

    Surely the key action a low paid worker should be taking to earn more would be to join a union and seek to encourage their workmates to do the same. I assume Jobcentre Plus have been approached to ensure that this is being promoted by their advisers?

  2. Michael fearon
    Apr 5th 2015, 8:15 am

    its disgusting ,I’ve worked all my working life but it’s scary to think if I lost my job hoe I would be treated.

  3. nigel day
    Apr 5th 2015, 11:05 pm

    I have been sancitioned 4 times due to jobcentre failings namely advisors failing to process evidence from my visits to the jobcentre. I had to involve one of the security guards at redhill jc twice who remembered seeing and having a lenthy convo with me whilst i waited to sign although i did get it overturned this did not get the money they had taken from me returned. simple brainwashing by government along the same lines as drink drivers ie any one on any type of benefit is scum.

  4. Tony Greenstein
    Apr 7th 2015, 1:29 am

    and this is precisely why not just Unite Community but all the major unions should be coming out strongly against sanctions, be it against claimants or low-paid workers.

    Sanctions make people have to compete more fiercely for the lowest paid jobs and thus lower the price of labour of those in jobs. Miliband’s Labour needs to be told to stop courting the richest in society and start looking to those hit by austerity.

    That should be the lesson of the debate last week, that the anti-austerity message of the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru, has a strong appeal. Instead Labour MPs think that a direct attack on the SNP over independence is the answer, failing to learn anything from the referendum over independence. A Labour-Tory campaign alienated the Scottish working class and will lead to a wipe-out of Labour in Scotland yet Scottish Labour MPs demonstrate they’ve learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

    Sanctions hit working-class communities and help transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. Miliband simply has no understanding of this.

  5. PAUL DA OTHER ONE
    Apr 12th 2015, 1:02 pm

    I SAY LOW PAID GOT WHAT IS RIGHTLY RIGHT IF YOU TAKING FROM DWP YOU SHOULD FACE SAME SANCTIONS THAT THE UNEMPLOYED FACE AFTER ALL YOU TAKING TAXPAYERS MONEY LIKE UNEMPLOYED SO I SAY ONE LAW FOR ALL .IT TEACH THEM THAT WORKING NOT TO STAND BY PM WHEN HE USED YOU TO ATTACK UNEMPLOYED BY SAYING THEY LAZY AS IT’S NOW BACK FIRED ON YOU AS HE’S NOW SAYING THAT ABOUT YOU LOT I SAY YOU GOT YOUR JUST DESERT .DON’T VOTE TORY MAY SEVENTH HE’S NOT FOR ORDINARY MAN WOMEN UK WANTS ALL US TO PROP UP RICH AND BANKERS MISTAKES .

  6. Tony Greenstein
    Apr 12th 2015, 1:34 pm

    New Labour were the first to introduce sanctions. Miliband has said nothing about abolishing them. It will take a concerted campaign by the unemployed and workers to get rid of them.

    Sanctions are part of the discipline and whip on all workers. They keep the pressure on to take any job at any wage and thus lower the price of labour. The Labour Party is ‘business friendly’ these days so they are quite happy to keep wages low and ‘flexible’. The unions have got to get off their knees.

  7. mr green
    Apr 12th 2015, 4:12 pm

    AND BEFORE ALL YOU LOW PAID WORKERS START WHINGING REMEMBER CAMERON SAID WE ALL IN IT TOGETHER !!! CAMERON HAS ATTACKED THE UNEMPLOYED ,SICK AND DISABLED BENEFITS -NOW ITS YOU LOW PAID WHO ARE GOING TO BEING TARGETED NEXT THEN IT WILL BE PENSIONERS . PLEASE DONT TELL ME YOU GOING TO VOTE FOR CAMERON ,IAN DUNCAN SMITH AND ESTHER MC VEY AND CLEGG AT THE MAY ELECTION AS THESE 4 SAD INDIVIDUAL TWATS HAVE GOT THOUSANDS OF DEATHS AND BLOOD ON THIER HANDS AFTER ALL THIER CRUEL CUTS TO THE SICK,DISABLED AND UNEMPLOYED PEOPLES BENEFITS .IF GOD FORBID YOU GOT A LOW PAID JOB GET READY FOR THE SHOCK OF YOUR LIFE WITH HOW YOU WILL BE TREATED IN A JOBCENTRE(OR COMMONLY KNOWN AS A DEATH CAMP AT BEST ). DO THE SENSIBLE THING AND VOTE CAMERON OUT IN MAY ELECTION

  8. ARY
    Apr 12th 2015, 4:24 pm

    HELP I’M LOW PAID

  9. mr green
    Apr 12th 2015, 4:26 pm

    And a Tory minister was overheard in a passageway of the houses of parliament saying to a liberal democrat mp “YOU LOT TAKE CARE OF THE UNEMPLOYED AND LOW PAID AND THE TORYS WILL TAKE CARE OF THE BANKERS AND MILLIONAIRES” and how true was that statement TO BECOME????AS THE BANKERS AND MILLIONAIRES ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE TO BE HELPED BY CAMERON AND CLEGG .VOTE THE PAIR OF TWATS OUT IN MAYS ELECTION.