The DWP are experimenting with a “Tailoring Up” approach to sanctions for disabled claimants which will allow job coaches to make activities either voluntary or mandatory on a personal whim. The DWP are doing no monitoring of the programme whatsoever to ensure that particular groups of claimants are not discriminated against.
The Tailoring Up programme claims to focus on “what a claimant can do, rather than what they can’t”. It allows job coaches to make employment support activities such as training or work experience voluntary, so that the claimant is not at risk of being sanctioned.
However, job coaches are free to make the activities mandatory and therefore subject to sanctions for any claimant “where appropriate”.
Attending meetings with job coaches will continue to be a mandatory activity.
According to a response by minister for disabled people Chloe Smith to questions by the Commons work and pensions committee:
“Tailoring Up is a new way to deliver our existing conditionality policy for people with health conditions. The approach focuses on what a claimant can do, rather than what they can’t, and commitments are built up and tailored to the individual’s situation. Tailoring Up encourages a voluntary first approach to allow a claimant to test out employment support activities without risk of a sanction while they are still building their knowledge and understanding of the impacts of their health condition.
“The Tailoring Up approach does not remove the option to apply mandatory conditionality. The approach is tailored to each individual dependent on their personal circumstances. Many people will have a blend of commitments, some voluntary and some mandatory, and we retain the mandatory requirement for claimants to attend any interviews set.
“All commitments are agreed in advance with the claimant and Tailoring Up reduces the likelihood of any sanction referrals by applying a voluntary first approach where applicable. However, claimants may still be set mandatory commitments if the work coach feels it is appropriate; and should the claimants fail to comply without a good cause, they could be subject to a sanction.”
There are many objections to this approach.
The most obvious is that if you want to make claimants feel safe to try out work-related activities then the only sensible thing to do is remove the threat of sanctions altogether. The rates of benefits like ESA, JSA and UC are now so low that the idea that a significant number of claimants would prefer to remain in poverty on benefits rather than work if they could is far-fetched.
The Tailoring Up approach applies not just to claimants “found to have Limited Capability to Work following their WCA, on both New Style ESA and Universal Credit”. It also applies to “everyone on the health journey providing medical evidence before their WCA”. In other words, claimants who will eventually be placed in the support group can still face an arbitrary risk of sanctions at the whim of a job coach, whilst they are waiting to have their WCA.
It’s also clear that this new approach makes discrimination, both at the institutional level and at the individual job coach level, even more likely and virtually impossible to expose.
Under Tailoring Up, job coaches have the power to choose how many sanctions threats they choose to load on any individual claimant. Where a job coach is sceptical about, for example, ME/CFS, Long Covid or mental health issues they will have the power to make more activities mandatory for claimants with those conditions.
Smith was unable to answer a whole range of questions about the scheme from the work and pensions committee because:
“We do not collect data which identifies how many claimants are in receipt of voluntary as opposed to mandatory commitments.”
This means the department will have no way of checking whether the sanctions regime is being applied in a discriminatory way, with claimants with particular conditions or from particular ethnic backgrounds, for example, being more likely to be subject to sanctions.
So far, no guidance has been published on how job coaches should decide who will be subject to mandatory activities. This means that claimants will have no way of measuring whether they are being treated fairly and according to DWP policies.
Benefits and Work has requested copies of any such guidance, but the DWP often ignores the rules when it comes to Freedom of Information requests.
The Tailoring Up approach is initially being trialled in 11 Health Model Offices, with a view to rolling it out nationally. The 11 offices are:
Aberdare, Croydon, Fraserburgh, Gosport, Grantham, Leeds Eastgate, Paisley, Slough, Stourbridge,
Benefits and Work members concerned about facing sanctions can download a copy of our 35 page guide to Ways to prevent and overturn ESA and UC sanctions from the ESA and UC resources page.