25 July 2014
The DWP is failing to communicate with those on mandatory back-to-work schemes, resulting in cruel and unfair sanctions.
An independent report into Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants forced on back-to-work schemes was published on the 22nd of July. The report, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and authored by Matthew Oakley, former head of social policy at center-right think tank Policy Exchange, found that the system was incomprehensible to many claimants, with sanctions often imposed on the most vulnerable due to their difficulties with understanding the “complex” and “legalistic” style of correspondence.
The report said, “No matter what system of social security is in place, if it is communicated poorly, if claimants do not understand the system and their responsibilities and if they are not empowered to challenge decisions they believe to be incorrect and seek redress, then it will not fulfil its purpose. It will be neither fair nor effective”.
Oakley recommended that ministers reconsider how they communicate with JSA claimants in order that they better understand the system. His proposals have been accepted.
However many charities and campaigners, while welcoming his findings, criticised the report for its narrow scope, which barely scratches the surface of the multitude of systemic failings.
General secretary of the TUC Frances O’Grady responded, “While this report identifies some important areas for improvement, its limited remit means the worst excesses of the current sanctions regime look set to remain in place. Jobcentre Plus staff want to build trusting relationships with claimants, but instead they are being made to harass them. With sanctions increasingly forcing people to rely on food banks to feed their families, a full independent review – which looks at all benefit sanctions and the culture of harassment at Jobcentre Plus – is now urgently needed.”
IER endorses the position taken by the TUC. As a forthcoming report form IER will highlight, there are fundamental problems with the existing and proposed benefit system which need to be addressed if working families are to feel less insecure and more part of the so called period of economic growth.