15th December 2008
Welfare Reform: Everyone will be expected to work
The Government’s White Paper Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future laid before Parliament last week will create a system where “virtually everyone has to do something in return for their benefits.” Only those who are severely ill or disabled, some carers and parents of children under one will not be expected to work.
The plans outlined in the White Paper which will start coming into force in 2010 will mean that most people on incapacity benefit and income support, such as lone parents, will be expected to look for work as a condition of continuing to receive benefit. The plans include sanctions for those who repeatedly refuse to co-operate with attempts to find them work which could include having their benefits stopped for up to four weeks.
What is being proposed in the White Paper is moving towards a more personalised approach to supporting lone parents and disabled people back into work. However Citizens Advice has concerns as this will require major investment in Jobs and Benefits Offices to ensure they can provide this support. Given the current cut backs in staffing levels as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review it is doubtful that these staff will have the necessary skills, training, time and support they need to do the job.
Given the current economic climate and rising redundancies it is difficult to see how there will be the number of jobs available for those targeted as part of this White Paper and even if the jobs are available if these will be suitable for the individuals concerned.
Improvements are needed in the delivery of benefits and tax credits, in access to affordable, high quality childcare and in ensuring basic rights at work are enforceable and employers offer the flexible working arrangements parents and people with disabilities need.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Derek Alcorn said:
“We welcome the proposals to help those who can work get back into work. However we have concerns about these plans forcing people into a work situation which they cannot cope with or forcing lone parents into childcare arrangements which are either too expensive or not suitable. We would like to see effective safeguards introduced to prevent hardship to vulnerable families where benefit cuts are applied inconsistently or harshly under the new regime.”
1. A Northern Ireland client lives with her partner and they have one child. Her partner is in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and Income Support. The client is a carer and claims Carers Allowance for looking after her partner. She was offered training as a hairdresser with one of the local technical colleges. The client spoke to her Careers Adviser in her local jobcentre and was advised to go to the Social Security Office. When she approached the SSO they told her that they could not help her as she is not a lone parent. This incorrect advice, as a result of inexperienced staff, may have resulted in the client losing out on a training opportunity.
2. A Northern Ireland client was sanctioned for leaving his job voluntarily. The client had learning disabilities and was being bullied at work. He left the job because he could no longer cope.
3. A Northern Ireland client lives in a rural area and had been in receipt of JSA and was moved onto New Deal 25+ just prior to his 50th birthday. He had been through the gateway programme and is now on the PEP (Preparation for Employment) or IAP (Intense Activity Period). The client has been offered a work experience placement which involves a 4 mile walk to the nearest bus stop. This was not suitable and the client wanted to leave the programme. If the client was over 50 at the time of joining the scheme he could have left the programme without sanction. As he applied just prior to his 50th birthday he was subject to the sanction.
4. A Northern Ireland client started working for her employer and still had not received any wages after 2 months. The client’s manager forgot to process her details and the client was continually being told that she would receive her wages but had not been paid. The client is a single parent and had no money to feed her daughter. She had been borrowing off her family and her tax credit claim had also been held up.
5. A Northern Ireland client is profoundly deaf and she requested a British Sign Language Interpreter for her interview with her Lone Parent Adviser, as is her right under the Disability Discrimination Act. The Lone Parent Adviser did not respond and when the CAB adviser contacted her on the client’s behalf she was told that no interpreter had been booked and that another member of staff who had attended a basic Deaf Awareness course could help and they could also, as in the past with this client pass handwritten notes. The client did not want to go ahead with the interview without appropriate interpretation facilities.
Notes to editors
1. Citizens Advice is the largest advice charity in Northern Ireland working against poverty, meeting the information and advice needs of some 279,000 people per year. 56% of these queries relate to social security benefits.
2. The Citizens Advice service is an independent charity that helps people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information see www.citizensadvice.co.uk.
3. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.