So called hard-working people will soon be abandoned to unprecedented poverty when payments intended to cover housing costs are sanctioned for the first time under sweeping reforms to in-work benefits.
When Universal Credit is fully introduced (stop laughing) part-time workers on a low income will be expected to constantly look for more, or better paid work as a condition of receiving vital in-work benefits. Any failure on the part of claimants to prove that they carried out constant job searching in the hours they were not working will mean benefits are sanctioned.
For claimants who are unemployed the sanction system will remain largely unchanged under Universal Credit. Those without health problems who are sanctioned will lose all of their personal benefits except what is required to pay for housing costs or children. This will mean a childless claimant will have no money at all once they have paid their rent – although they may be eligible to apply for emergency Hardship Payments of around £40 a week. It is this nasty regime that has led to the explosion in foodbanks and been linked to a growing number of suicides.
If this same claimant is in part time work then they may not receive any additional benefits other than the housing element of Universal Credit – the replacement for what is now known as Housing Benefit. And so, for the first time, it is this benefit which will be sanctioned should they fail to carry out Jobcentre demands to look for additional work.
Working claimants who are sanctioned will lose the same amount as those who are unemployed – the equivalent of a current weekly dole payment of £71.70. That means if some is working on a low income and claiming help with their housing costs then £71.70 will be deducted from their benefit. To see the full horror of how this will play out in some people’s lives then you have to do some sums.
Take a single, childless person in Bristol working at the current minimum wage for 20 hours a week and paying £120 a week in rent – the local housing allowace rate in the area for a claimant over 35. Under Universal Credit this person will have a weekly income of £244 made up of £144 a week in wages and £100 a week in benefits. Once their rent is paid this will leave them with £124 a week. If they are sanctioned however they will lose £73.10 leaving them with just £50.90 a week to live on. That’s over £20 a week less than the current dole and just £10 a week more than Hardship Payments. Universal Credit will therefore not make work pay for those who have been sanctioned. It will however make work compulsory.
The claimant will not be able to leave their job without risking a disallowance – meaning no benefits at all. In the hours they are not working they will still be expected to carry out work related activity to look for a better job, which under current rules, could include some form of workfare. The meagre income they receive means they will be unlikely to qualify for additional Hardship Payments. And astonishingly they are also likely to have to pay Council Tax out of that sum.
In Bristol they would be expected to pay around £9 a week in Council Tax assuming they lived in the lowest possible band. This brings their weekly income down to about £42 a week – and they are working.
A weeky bus pass in Bristol costs £23.80. Claimants must be prepared to travel at least 90 minutes on public transport to their job so in most cases this will be a necessary expense. This will mean hard working people surviving on less than £20 a week for food, clothes, basic hygiene costs and bills. That of course assumes they aren’t subject to the Bedroom Tax in which case they will get no money at all in some cases, just a steadily increasing debt.
The only real option for most will be to dig into money intended to cover rent. For working claimants a sanction will mean inevitable rent arrears – and as a sanction can last up to three years – for many it will mean homelessness. And therefore eventual joblessness. And with no benefits because losing their job will have been deemed to be their own fault.
This system is designed to ‘incentivise’ people to look for more, or better paid work. So imagine, by some fucking miracle, that an in-work benefit sanction doesn’t destroy someone, it motivates them. That they pull their socks up and by some other fucking miracle manage to find an additional job which doesn’t clash with their existing hours. Let’s say they gain an additional 10 hours a week work on the Minimum Wage. Will it make any difference? Barely, because the sanction will still apply unless they have been working full time for a period of six months.
Much of their additional wages will be eaten up by housing costs as their already sanctioned claim is reduced the more they earn. So somebody working 30 hours a week, with a sanction, in the cicrumstances described above, would receive a total of £207.68 a week in wages and no Universal Credit at all. After rent and Council Tax is paid that will leave them with £77. Less than a fiver more than the current dole. For working 30 hours a week.
There is nothing particularly special about this claimant’s circumstances other than that they live in the south of England where rents are higher. In London and other areas many will fare even worse. There should be no doubt about what these sanctions are intended to do. This is the bureacratic annihilation of an individual as a message to everybody else that if you do not comply – that if you do not constantly strive – the government will destroy you. It is like nothing that has been seen in UK legislation since the horrors of the workhouse.
According to the DWP benefit sanctions are only used as a ‘last resort’. There have been 1.6 million ‘last resorts’ since the system was toughened in 2012. In work benefit sanctions are already being trialled in some parts of the UK with desperate results. The extension of this brutal regime will create in-work poverty that has rarely, if ever, been seen before in the UK. People working for pennies, with no quality of life at all. Those already living in the cheapest possible accommodation that can be found in most of the country facing homelessness. Some of these people will be ill, wrongly found fit for work by Atos or Maximus. Some will be left with no money at all depending on if they are subject to the Beneift Cap or Bedroom Tax. Others will have debts they will never hope to pay back whilst sanctioned and so will just get bigger and bigger.
An in-work benefit sanction for many will be a life sentence, especially for those who are older and carry any debts incurred into retirement. For others it will be a death sentence as the strain of extreme poverty, hard work and constant Jobcentre harassment pushes some over the edge. DWP ministers are happy to accept this collateral damage as part of their attempt to dicipline the working class into accepting a life of hard-working drudgery for poverty pay. The only question that now remains is will the trade unions, charities and others that have cowardly accepted vicious welfare refoms continue their co-operation when it is their own workers and members who are subject to this torment?
You can read the current rules for Universal Credit, and many other benefits at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-decision-making-staff-guide
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