The devil is in the detail so it’s too soon to know exactly what George Osborne meant when he said today that the Government plans “a hard-headed assessment of under-performing (social security) programmes”.
This came along with yet more conditionality for those looking for work including weekly signing and forced English classes for non-English speakers. Both of these things will cost more money, not less, although mandatory ESOL – English For Speakers of Other Languages – has long been a feature of welfare-to-work style programmes and was originally introduced by Tony Blair. Meanwhile single parents with three year olds will now be subject to Jobcentre bullying, although they will not be required to take up work until their child is five.
The extension of the waiting period for unemployment benefits to seven days – a nasty little move that is squarely aimed at all those in work who may face unemployment in the future – will save pennies. Ending Winter Fuel Payments for those living overseas is also unlikely to bring the DWP a windfall. Osborne claims these changes will save £350 million.
The spending review document calls these changes to the Job Seekers Allowance regime a ‘significant reform’. It also says that the DWP will “test different approaches to supporting ESA claimants in the Work Related Activity Group to move closer to work”.
Currently these claimants are bundled onto the Work Programme, where sick and disabled claimants can now be forced to work unpaid for unspecified periods of time. There is no mention of Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Work Programme in the spending review document which accompanies Osborne’s speech.
Already the Community Action Programme (CAP), the planned scheme for endless workfare once claimants have left the Work Programme, seems to have disappeared and been replaced with Jobcentre based harassment.
Scrapping the Work Programme would be a major embarrassment for the Government and call into question the entire payment-by-results model which has since been exported to probation services. But with the Work Programme performance figures continuing to show the scheme is a disaster, about the only thing more embarrassing than scrapping it would be keeping it.
Whatever turns out to be the case – and there will be no gushing press releases from the DWP announcing ‘woo hoo, we’ve scrapped the Work Programme’ – Osborne’s speech indicates a return to Jobcentre based policing for unemployed claimants. Jobcentres that are already at near breaking point due to soaring long term unemployment and already vastly increased workloads. Whether the private sector poverty pimps who have bungled the Work Programme are brought into Jobcentres as compensation for their failure remains to be seen. Either way the outcome for claimants themselves is likely to be more of the same shit just with longer queues.
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