Universal credit (UC) claimants are to be faced with a new sanction trap disguised as help to move into work. The scheme has been condemned by the DWP staff union who say the government is “hellbent on making it more difficult for people to claim benefits”, even though jobcentre workers stand to gain from a £250 ‘incentive’ if their office tops a league table.
UC sanctions are already at a record high. Over 98% of all sanctions are for failure to attend an interview, with over half a million claimants being sanctioned for this reason last year.
Yet, under the new Additional Jobcentre Support scheme claimants are being forced to attend a jobcentre 10 times over a two week period. In these obligatory sessions they will have “work search conversations” and “support sessions”. Missing a single session is likely to lead to a sanction.
The scheme has been tested in 4 jobcentres is now to be rolled out to a further 60 across England and Scotland.
According to DWP secretary of state Mel Stride, the DWP will also be offering a bonus “to recognise and reward jobcentre teams who furthest exceed their aspirational targets.”
The reward is a £250 voucher for each member of staff in the best performing jobcentres.
No explanation of what “aspirational targets” consist of or whether they include getting people off benefits, sanctioning claimants or solely getting claimants into work.
The PCS union, which represents DWP staff has no doubt, however, that the main purpose of the Additional Jobcentre Support pilot scheme is to make life harder for claimants and “the incentivisation of placing others into a more vulnerable situation.”.
Martin Cavanagh, PCS DWP Group President, said:
“Our members will see through this pilot for what it is – a government hellbent on making it more difficult for people to claim benefits and which will increase the risk of poverty for those customers who fall foul of this pilot. Asking more customers to travel more often into jobcentres does nothing to help our staff or their workloads and does nothing to help the customers find the work that they need.”
The PCS also revealed that there are no additional staff to deliver the extra work, which is likely to mean poorer service for all jobcentre users.
The pilot is aimed at claimants who have been in receipt of UC for more than 13 weeks. It will not include claimants who are:
- Awaiting a Work Capability Assessment;
- Required to undertake less than 20 hours a week of work search activity;
- Who are Gainfully Self-Employed;
- Who have no work related requirements;
- With an easement in place; and
- On a full-time provision offer.
The scheme has already been running in Coalville, Crawley, Partick and Pontefract Jobcentres. The new pilot began on 27 February in 60 jobcentres across Central Scotland, Surrey & Sussex, West Yorkshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.
Benefits and Work would be happy to hear from anyone involved in this scheme.
You can read Mel Stride’s statement on the Additional Jobcentre Support pilot here
You can read the PCS union’s statement here.