Tag Archives: Work for Your Benefit

Link to BBC News 24 Interview

My interview on about the government’s plans for compulsory unpaid manual work is now on You Tube. Please see it here and let us know what you think

And they’re off

Just over a week since Gordon Brown called the General Election for 6th May and all three major English political parties have now launched their manifestos. So we thought we’d reflect on the different approaches to welfare reform  each party presents.

First off, Labour and A Future Fair for All. Welfare is up front in the headlines of the ‘tough choices’ that an incoming Labour government would have to make:

“Tough choices on welfare: our reforms will increase fairness and work incentives, including £1.5 billion of savings being delivered.”

Those savings are projected to be made primarily from the transfer of the last remaining 1.5 million people who are still on Incapacity Benefit onto either Job Seekers Allowance (and from there, they hope back into work) or Employment and Support Allowance. The manifesto talks about the ‘tough-but-fair’ Work Capability Assessment that will facilitate this process. Evidence emerging from many disabled people’s charities points to a contrary experience, that it is not fair to those with disabilities who perhaps would most benefit from the support available on the Employment and Support Allowance.

There is a continued commitment to the Future Jobs Fund, a temporary measure designed to provide 6 month paid work experience for unemployed young people. That it is paid work experience is to be welcomed, that it is costing the tax payer £1 billion for such a short term solution to a long term problem is perhaps not.

Worryingly it also states that, “All those who are long term unemployed for two years will be guaranteed a job placement, which they will be required to take up or have their benefits cut.” I imagine people on JSA would be delighted at the prospect of a guarantee of a job if they have endured two years of unemployment. What isn’t clear from the manifesto is if this ‘job placement’ is paid, or whether an individual who has suffered the indignity of long term unemployment is then required to work for their benefit, a policy we wholeheartedly oppose.

What the manifesto lacks, is any commitment to reviewing the benefits system itself. As with all parties that have held office for some time, it’s difficult for Labour to critique a system it has been running for so many years. And yet the benefits system needs a fundamental overhaul, a complete review and redesign to make it fit for the 21st century. This lack of vision on the part of Labour may cost them much needed votes.

And so onto the Tories and their invitation for us to join government.

Unsurprisingly, their manifesto commitments around the benefits system read much like the Labour Party’s. This is because both parties have been advised by Lord Freud, who stopped advising James Purnell MP, former Secretary of State for DWP, to take his plans to the Conservative Party back in February 2009.

What seems out of place with Conservative policy amongst Freud’s plans for welfare reform is the continued commitment to introduce Work for your Benefit, mandatory community work placements for the long term unemployed. Already being piloted by the Labour government, this initiative flies in the face of the Tories’ plans for a Big Society.

Their manifesto states that “The Big Society runs consistently through our policy programme”. If this is the case, why are they planning on punishing the long term unemployed with community work, while simultaneously trying to persuade the rest of us it’s something we should be doing in our spare time?

Community work is a carrot, not a stick and to use it in this punitive manner sends mixed messages the electorate will not warm to.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Tories’ plans on welfare is the complete absence of much of the excellent work that has been produced by Tory think tanks over recent years. In particular, the Centre for Social Justice‘s Dynamic Benefits report, which unequivocally outlines why the welfare state is broken and must be radically changed and Policy Exchange‘s Escaping the Poverty Trap.

One can only hope that should the Conservatives win the election that Ian Duncan Smith MP is able to assert more influence over the reforms of the welfare state than he has been able to over his party’s manifesto. He seems to be one of the few MPs who in JK Rowling’s words has “taken the trouble to educate themselves about the lives of all kinds of Britons“.

And finally to the Liberal Democrats who launched their manifesto yesterday. Beyond the big headlines about making the tax and benefits system fair for all there is suprisingly little detail from them about how they plan to make the benefits system fairer. They state that, “Labour has created a hugely complex and unfair benefits system, and it needs to be reformed.” It’s somewhat disappointing then, to read on and find no information about how they plan to reform the benefits system.

Is anyone from the Liberal Democrats able to enlighten us? I’d love to know. We agree the benefits system needs to be reformed, but how? Voters are going to be wary of reforms that are unarticulated, even in the broadest of terms in an election manifesto. Please let me know if I’ve missed something.

We can only hope that the pledge to stop people who earn up to £10,000 a year paying any income tax, extends to those on benefits who take part time or sessional work while on benefits. The Centre for Social Justice’s report Dynamic Benefits has said that the current benefit withdrawal rate when someone does take work is akin to between a 75% and 95% tax rate on the poorest in our society.

Hardly the incentive the unemployed need in order to get back into work. And yet in this time of recession, this remains unaddressed by all 3 main English parties in their manifestos.

What are your thoughts on the manifesto commitments on welfare reform so far?


The Inverse Care Law – Guest Blog from Lord Adebowale

We need a welfare state that is fit for the 21st century. We need to redesign it away from a post war vision of a very different society to what we live in today. There are gaps in the welfare state through which people fall because it’s not personalized enough. It is of great concern to me that for too long we appear to have been suffering from the inverse care law—the more you need, the less you are likely to get.

What worries me about some of the language around welfare reform at the moment is the idea that people on benefits are enjoying a nice lifestyle paid for by the taxpayer. They’re not. We need to get away from a punitive element in welfare reform that believes that if you treat people harshly, that will improve their ability to move up the ladder.

I have always argued that the welfare state should be about providing a step up for people.

The Community Allowance would create a step up for people and some of the poorest places in the UK, which have seen a lack of change over the last 10-20 years. If you are born in a place with high crime, low educational outcomes and poor health, there is an expectation that you will die under the same circumstances.

In my work on the Aylesbury estate in south London I realized one of the problems on estates like this is that the myth becomes the reality, and anyone from the estate could be written off.

The Community Allowance would create job opportunities for people in areas like Aylesbury. The jobs would simultaneously benefit the community and enable the individual to take small manageable steps towards sustainable employment. The New Economics Foundation’s recent work showing the Social Return on Investment of the Community Allowance clearly shows the economic argument for this.

And yet small organisations dedicated to delivering welfare-to-work services in disadvantaged areas will struggle to win contracts to deliver the Flexible New Deal and other areas of the welfare to work agenda because there is no mechanism to recognise and reward the work they do. Although some people are ready to get straight back to full-time work, for others this would be too great a leap. It wouldn’t work for employers, and would be likely to push people back into drugs and crime. This approach threatens to raise the cost to the public purse in the long-term, not only through benefits but also through other health, social care and criminal justice costs.

There needs to be a mechanism to reward the work that is done to prepare those most in need of the support to get work, rather than just job entries. 

It must not just be about getting people into a job, but also about measuring the progress people have made towards getting into work. That distance travelled can be measured and must be.  The Community Allowance could provide an ideal first step up onto the ladder of progress and opportunities for people who have been out of work for a long time, cycling on and off benefits.

Real life involves people failing and going around the cycle of trying to improve their lives on more than one occasion. A civilized society allows for that to happen.

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point

Work for Your Benefit pilots announced

You may well have missed the somewhat depressing news that the DWP are going to pilot Work for Your Benefit sanctions in both Greater Manchester and across the counties of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

This will affect the projected 2% of Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who are unable to find work after 2 years of support and interventions through the Job Centre Plus and Flexible New Deal. However, Job Centre Plus advisors can refer people on JSA to do 6 weeks of Work for Your Benefit at any point from the start of their claim.

Work for Your Benefit will make people on JSA work for 30 hours a week (where possible placements will be of benefit to the community) in return for their benefits. They also have to undertake up to 10 hours a week of supported work search activity. The DWP are currently asking for organisations to express an interest in running the pilots.

We have had grave concerns about this initiative since it was first suggested by the Conservative Party and then included in the Government’s Green Paper on Welfare Reform. Here’s why: 

The Recession and Rising Unemployment

  • It’s dangerous to associate community work in the public mind with ‘scroungers’ being punished, particularly during a time of rising unemployment. Community work is a great opportunity – part of the carrot, not one of the sticks. Getting people engaged in their communities is a crucial element in tackling worklessness and poverty, by maximising the opportunities that exist for part time, sessional and irregular work in deprived communities.
  • With rising unemployment and increased competition for all jobs, it is likely to be those that are furthest from the labour market and most excluded for socio-economic reasons that will still be unemployed at the end of 2 years. Intervention in a community setting for this demographic should be supportive and enabling, not punitive.

 The DWP’s own research shows that ‘workfare’ doesn’t work

  • Their research into the effectiveness of workfare programmes in the US, Canada and Australia found that overall the Work for Your Benefit approach is not effective.
  • Work for Your Benefit is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to entering the labour market
  • Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.
  • Some states in the US have scaled down large-scale, universal workfare programmes in preference for ‘softer’ and more flexible models that offer greater support to those with the most barriers to work. This includes a greater reliance on subsidised jobs that pay wages rather than benefits to participants.
  • Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than Work for Your Benefit programmes.
  • Workfare is not only inefficient; it is unfair too, because it exploits the unemployed people forced to take part. If a job is worth doing it is worth being paid the rate for that job. Unemployed people on workfare schemes would be paid less than half the national minimum wage.

Government doesn’t understand the Community Sector Labour Market

  • The labour market in poor communities creates predominantly part time, sessional and irregular jobs that reflects a national shift away from a 35 hour week towards a labour market that is more dynamic. Many of these are ideal ‘entry level’ jobs that could be a first step into work for the long term unemployed.
  • The Work for Your Benefit pilots do not recognise the nature of the community sector labour market. It will be problematic to generate enough full time community work for people to do in their own community to sustain full time activity. 
  • Transporting people out of their community to work in other communities displaces local ownership of work that is undertaken to improve a community. Local ownership is of crucial importance to the effectiveness and sustainability of community work.
  • Additional transport time on top of full time activity will be very problematic for many people, particularly those who are single parents. Experience in the US, recounted by Alison Benjamin in The Guardian, illustrates how dangerous this can be, as the impact on children can be damaging, particularly when there is no rise in income associated with the parent’s absence.

    We believe that the Community Allowance should be piloted as an alternative to Work for Your Benefit for people on JSA as part of an ‘enhanced stage 3 option’. We know hundreds of community organisations across the UK that would jump at the chance to work with Job Centre Plus on this, creating thousands of new paid jobs in the process.