Universal Credit warning: The tough new sanctions claimants are facing

Universal Credit: Expert discusses benefits of claiming

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The Government’s new Way to Work scheme aims to fill the huge number of staff vacancies in the labour market as soon as possible. Under the new scheme, jobseekers on universal credit will face cuts to their benefits if they haven’t secured employment within a few weeks. Here’s everything you need to know about the sanctions.

New plans are being drawn up to tighten the criteria for those claiming out-of-work benefits.

Under new rules, those on universal credit will face cuts to their payments if they can’t find work within four weeks.

This is a huge reduction in the amount of time allowed to find a suitable job, as current rules allow for up to three months before action is taken.

Under the scheme claimants will be forced to look for work outside of their chosen field “in any sector” and if they “turn down a job offer” even if they aren’t suited to it they will face sanctions if they can’t find an alternative option within the new tight time frame.

As well as enforcing tough new sanctions to encourage jobseekers into work the scheme will also offer more face-to-face meetings with dedicated Jobcentre staff to help claimants with their job applications.

The scheme is designed to plug the record number of staff vaccines which stands at a staggering 1.2 million, as quickly as possible.

This latest drive comes as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced that it wants to get 500,000 benefits claimants into employment by the end of June 2021.

However, experts fear pushing job seekers into ill-suited jobs as quickly as possible could make the labour market less efficient and delay post-pandemic economic growth.

The Institute for Employment Studies has warned that if universal claimants are pressured into taking jobs they aren’t suited to then this will simply create a high staff turnover which could exacerbate problems in the labour market.

Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies told the i paper: “It’s [the new scheme] focussing on tackling short-term unemployment when we’ve got the lowest ever short-term unemployment and it’s not doing enough to help those who aren’t looking for work.”

He added the new scheme will introduce “extraordinarily tough sanctions” which would be counterproductive as they could worsen jobseekers’ mental health and motivation to find employment.

He added: “[Sanctions are] also bad for employers. Because employers don’t want people applying for jobs who don’t want to be there and might leave that job.

“We need to dial down the rhetoric around sanctions and focus more [on] how we can help people who want jobs to find those jobs.

“There are two risks here, the first is we actually increase turnover for employers at a time when they want to find staff and keep them, and the second is people end up taking up jobs that aren’t right for them.”

Thérèse Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has defended the scheme, she said: “Helping people get any job now, means they can get a better job and progress into a career.

“Way to Work is a step change in our offer to claimants and employers, making sure our Jobcentre network and excellent work coaches can deliver opportunities, jobs and prosperity to all areas of the country.

“As we emerge from Covid, we are going to tackle supply challenges and support the continued economic recovery by getting people into work.

“Our new approach will help claimants get quickly back into the world of work while helping ensure employers get the people they and the economy needs.”

Critics fear that this new scheme will see a high turnover of staff leading to higher rates of long-term employment.

Labour’s shadow employment minister, Alison McGovern, said: “It’s just tinkering at the edges – long-term unemployment is 60 percent higher than before the pandemic.”

She added: “This announcement has more to do with trying to save the prime minister’s job than supporting people into work.

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