Government press on with compulsion
A trio of official publications in late 2007 and early this year provide further detail of the increasing compulsion - or conditionality - being applied to benefit claimants, with the accompanying threat of sanctions (and resulting poverty) for non-compliance. Simon Osborne describes the announcements.
Welfare and skills
Before Christmas, the Government announced more compulsion for benefit claimants, namely those on JSA, lone parents on income support (IS), young people claiming incapacity benefit (IB) and claimants of the forthcoming (expected for October 2008) employment and support allowance (ESA).*
In a Paper on 'welfare and skills reform' published in late November, the Government said that all new claimants of JSA, IS for lone parents and ESA will have a 'skills screen' when they start their claim. In the case of JSA and ESA, that may lead to a compulsory 'Skills Health Check' later on. Those still on JSA after six months, who have basic skills needs and who have not previously engaged with the adult advancement and careers service will also have to attend a Skills Health Check.
Regarding lone parents, the Paper refers to the proposal (still subject to consultation) that in 2008 such claimants should be required to claim JSA instead of IS when their youngest child reaches the age of 12 (instead of the current age of 16). They will be 'encouraged' to attend a Skills Health Check two years before they are due to lose eligibility for IS. Regarding young IB claimants, the idea is to move existing as well as new claimants under 25 onto the 'Pathways to Work' scheme. Also, such claimants will be subject to the 'new medical assessment' from 2009; subsequently this was confirmed as referring to the Work Capability Assessment - see below.
In Work, Better Off
Later, in its response to the consultation on the Green Paper In Work, Better Off (see Bulletin 199, p4), the Government confirmed plans to increase still further the compulsory requirements placed on benefit claimants as a condition of receiving full benefit.*
Amongst the changes set out over the next four years in Ready for work: full employment in our generation, are: from April 2009, a more intensive JSA regime including more frequent signing on; a new 'Gateway' stage for JSA after six months; changes to the mandatory New Deal in which those still unemployed after 12 months in the Gateway are referred to yet more intensive specialist help; lone parents with a youngest child aged 10 or over being required to look for work from October 2009 (i.e., in addition to the Green Paper announcement that this would happen from October 2008, where the youngest child is aged 12 or over, and from October 2010, where the youngest child is aged seven or over); compulsory participation in 'Pathways to Work' and the new Work Capability Assessment for existing incapacity or work claimants aged under 25 from 2009; national extension of the lone parent In Work Credit and In Work Emergency Discretion Fund from April 2008; piloting of a new 'better off in work credit' from October 2008 for those who have been on IS, JSA, IB or the new ESA for 26 weeks who have moved into work but are less than £25 a week better off. In pilot areas, the credit will be available from Jobcentre Plus and will work to increase income so that they are £25 a week better off.
Full employment and world-class skills
In early January, the Government published its response to the October 2007 report of the Work and Pensions Committee, Full employment and world class skills: Responding to the challenges.* The Committee had, amongst other things, registered concern about the evidence for the efficacy of compulsion for lone parents, the numbers of lone parents being sanctioned, and the position of lone parents with disabled children (see Bulletin 201, p. 2).
In their response, the Government say that 'David Freud's report recommended that now is the right time for the Government to consider increasing the obligations of lone parents' (On Freud, see Bulletins 193, p. 2 and 197, p. 11). They also claim support from the Harker report and a review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Based on this, the Government believe that a 'mandatory' regime for lone parents with older children will 'help' more of them move into work. They also refer to the increased support on offer: by 2010, there will be a childcare place for all children aged between 3 and 14, between 8 am and 6 pm each weekday.
Official research showed that, of those sanctioned, 56 per cent eventually complied and had the sanction removed, but 27 per cent took the sanction for more than six months. Fraud seems a bigger concern than poverty: where there is a suspicion that a lone parent may have undisclosed income or support, these will be investigated on an individual basis. But more research is being undertaken (by DWP and Northumbria University) with a final report expected in spring 2008. Also, there is an intention to provide safeguards, including amending rules, so that personal advisers will have 'extra discretion' not to penalise a lone parent on JSA who has left or not taken up a job because of lack of affordable childcare. There will be a 'reasonable chance to show good cause' for not attending a work-focused interview for all parents on JSA. This will include five working days' time to explain themselves, before receiving a sanction.
Regarding lone parents with disabled children, the Government point out that, where the child is entitled to high or middle rate care component of DLA or where the lone parent receives carer's allowance, the lone parent will continue to be able to claim IS, 'even when their youngest child reaches 12 (and in future 10 and then 7)'. Otherwise, 'The Department will continue to evaluate and develop its programmes to ensure that they are providing appropriate support for all lone parents'.
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