Tag Archives: Jobseekers Allowance

Sliding Towards Disaster, How Universal Credit Is Already A Failure

universal-credit-shamblesTwo reports have been released by the DWP this week which show that Universal Credit is fast becoming the toxic mix of poverty, insecure work and demoralising Jobcentre harassment that many feared when plans for an overhaul of the benefit’s system were first proposed.

At first glance one of the evaluations, which examines how many people have found a job after a period on Universal Credit (UC), appears to show a rosy future. Claimants on UC were 8% more likely to have had some work nine months after making their claim than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), the benefit which it is due to replace. However this does not tell the entire story.   Whilst UC claimants were more likely to have had a period of temporary work during the evaluation period, they were only 3% more likely to actually be in work at the nine month point. Also, and significantly, whatever work it was that they were doing, it didn’t earn them much. UC claimants earned around £80 more in the nine month period than those who made a JSA claim at the same time – less than two days wages on the minimum wage, despite on average working for 12 days more. Whilst the researchers warn, not unfairly, that the data on days worked and earnings is not as robust as that on job entry rates, if this result was replicated on a national scale then Universal Credit would be a disaster.

There is no real saving to the tax payer in people earning an extra eighty quid over nine months – especially if they are only marginally less likely to be unemployed at the end of it than those on the current system. Astonishingly the government’s long term spending plans are based on Iain Duncan Smith’s magical belief that changing the name of the dole and slightly upping the amount of Jobcentre harassment will cure structural unemployment for hundreds of thousands of people. As such lots of money will be saved, particularly in Housing Benefit payments. These results show that is not likely to be the case.

And it gets worse. The people studied in the evaluations were all single claimants with no housing costs, meaning they were probably living with family or friends. Most of them would be newly unemployed and therefore the most likely to move into work. In theory at least, it is far easier to take on (and declare) a couple of days work under UC than it is on the current system where working for short periods is likely to plunge your claim into chaos. The researchers themselves admit “some of the increase in the likelihood of becoming employed is due to UC leading to an increase in short-term work.”  What this means in practice is teachers and nurses stacking shelves in Poundland just to get the Jobcentre off their backs whilst the long term unemployed stay out of work.

This report by the way was the good news for Iain Duncan Smith. The second evaluation, which included looking at the impact of Universal Credit on those with housing costs, provides a chilling glimpse into the future of the UK’s social security system.

This study compared questionnaire responses from Universal Credit claimants with those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Participants were questioned twice, at five and a half weeks after first making their claim and then, for those that agreed to be contacted again, three months later. The results of the first wave of responses have previously been published and this report confirms the trends of the first.  Once again most people thought much of the ‘work related activity’ they were required to carry out as part of a UC claim was a waste of time, probably not achievable and did not take into account their personal circumstances. Despite this almost all were aware they could be sanctioned if they did not jump through the endless petty requirements to provide evidence they had been looking for work for 35 hours a week. Some even suggested this was detrimental to their job search: “What’s more important writing notes [for the Jobcentre] or preparing for an interview?.”

Whilst this evaluation was mainly concerned with the experiences of those claiming UC it also recorded how many people had successfully gained work, although it points out this is a ‘descriptive overview of working status’ rather than a measure of the impact of Universal Credit. But then they would say that wouldn’t they. Especially when the evaluation found that not only were employment rates almost exactly the same for UC and JSA claimants (at 41% and 40%), but that those on the current system were significantly more likely to be working full time than those on Universal Credit. 55% people in employment after claiming JSA were working over 35 hours a week by the time of the second questionnaire compared to 48% of UC claimants. So when those in rented housing are taken into account then Universal Credit is worse at helping people find full time work than the current system.

It still gets worse. Whilst the chances of finding a decent job on Universal Credit are dismal then the experiences of many who have claimed range from tragic to laughable.

The implementation of 35 hours a week enforced job search as part of the Claimant Commitment which underpins Universal Credit is revealed to be a farce by the evaluation. Claimants did report spending more time on job search than those on JSA, but they actually applied for slightly less jobs on average. It appears that if you fill in job applications really, really slowly then that will help maintain your benefit conditionality. For the technologically skilled this requirement is bizarre – one survey respondent pointed out that by setting up job alerts and using online applications they could apply for 50 jobs in a couple of hours so the requirement to spend 35 hours job searching was fruitless. Others claimed a lack of local jobs in the area made this demand impossible “there’s only so many people you can go and see in a week, and then the next week you’re struggling… you are going to run out of places to go and people to ring”.  Some pointed out they did not have the money to constantly visit employers to hand in CVs or use internet cafes as they were required to do to avoid a benefit sanction.

All that this unachievable and draconian conditionality is likely to do is shatter people’s confidence and sadly even this was borne out by the research. After around five months claiming benefits, 28% of Universal Credit claimants did not believe they were likely to get a job within the next three months compared to 19% of of those receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance.

It is not just people’s confidence that is demolished by Universal Credit, but also their finances. The five week waiting period for the benefit led to almost half of UC claimants with housing costs falling into rent arrears by the time the first survey was carried out. Some had even been taken to court by their landlords and were likely to be staring eviction in the face. As survey respondents pointed out, the loss of a job is a big enough financial hit to take without having to wait over a month for housing benefits to be processed. Even three months later some had still not caught up with rent – UC claimants were five percentage points more likely to be in rent arrears than those on JSA by the time of the second survey. The so-called budgeting support available for claimants appears to have been met with a scathing response with one person pointing out they were quite capable of working out themselves what their monthly income and outgoings were. Whilst UC claimants were slightly more likely to ask for help with budgeting than those on JSA, the general attitude seems to have been they didn’t need better budgeting skills, they needed more money – or just some money for those waiting for their claim to be processed.

Even claiming the new ‘digital by default’ benefit seems to have been shambolic. 63% of those with housing costs who tried to claim UC online experienced at least one difficulty with over a fifth of those saying the website crashed.

To read the gushing press release that accompanied these reports you would think that Universal Credit was already a huge success. But the truth is very different. About the only real positive findings for the DWP was that almost everyone claiming Universal Credit was well aware they needed to waste hours of their time providing reams of evidence of job search to Jobcentres or they would be sanctioned. This isn’t helping anyone find long term sustainable work though.  For those with no housing costs and a high chance of finding work – young graduates living with parents for example – then perhaps it pushes them into low paid temporary work a little bit faster than the current system, although even the impact of this is largely diminished in the long term. For everyone else it is a disaster. Rent arrears, debt, and unemployed people’s confidence destroyed by constant Jobcentre harassment is the real consequence of government’s flagship welfare reform. And it will carry on getting worse when sick and disabled people or lone parents are pushed into an already failing bureaucratic nightmare.

Iain Duncan Smith has called the results of these evaluations ‘remarkable’. Billions more pounds is now set to be spent propping up this delusion as Universal Credit is extended to the 99% of out of work claimants who have yet to be transferred onto the new system. It has taken over five years to produce this mess. About the only remarkable thing about this shambles is that Iain Duncan Smith still has a job. Which is more than you can say for over half of those claiming Universal Credit.

The first evaluation is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-estimating-the-early-labour-market-impacts-updated-analysis

The second can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-research-with-single-claimants-including-those-with-housing-costs

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Claimants Snub Universal Jobmatch and Foil DWP’s Snooping Plans

keepcalm-dont-signUPDATE 27/2/13:  Registering an account with Universal Jobmatch will  become mandatory from the beginning of March 2013.  There should still be no requirement to tick the box giving DWP access to your account.  For the latest details and what this means for claimants keep an eye on:  http://consent.me.uk/universaljobmatch/

In a major blow for Iain Duncan Smith’s snooping plans, around half of unemployed claimants have refused to allow Jobcentre staff to monitor their online job seeking accounts.

A recent Freedom of Information has revealed that there are currently 1,267,245 job seeking accounts* registered with the Government website Universal Jobmatch.  Of these just 765,054, around 40%, have not ticked the box allowing DWP access to their account.

For three months now Jobcentres have been using every trick in the book to sign claimants up to the new website which is intended to monitor jobseeking activity.  Many claimants are believed to have been wrongly threatened with benefit sanctions should they refuse to sign up to the website which has been plagued by attempts at identity fraud, spam, scams, spoof jobs and even sex work.

Despite relentless pressure from Jobcentre advisors, of the 1.56 million people currently claiming Jobseekers Allowance in the UK, only around half have granted the DWP access to monitor their accounts.

Whilst Iain Duncan Smith has muttered that eventually signing up to the site might be mandatory for some claimants, it is not the current DWP policy.  Signing up to the website is not mandatory.  Claimants cannot be issued with a Jobseeker’s Direction forcing them to use the site and cannot  be forced to tick the box granting DWP access to the account.

For information from the PCS Union on the current position visit:  http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/department_for_work_and_pensions_group/dwp-news.cfm/id/78E359C6-7B09-4FC6-98EBD4696432C199

For those who have been tricked or bullied into signing up to the site against their will a recent FOI explains how consent can be revoked:

“You do not need to explain the reasons why you have chosen not to continue with your UJ account, but your adviser will need to know that you are no longer using this service.  This is so that they can review and agree a new Jobseeker’s Agreement with you, to reflect what other steps you will be taking instead of using Universal Jobmatch to help improve your chances of finding work. 
 
(d) How do I go about revoking my consent on a existing UJ account? 
 
Firstly, if you wish to continue using UJ but no longer want to let DWP have access to your account then you need to un-check the box in your profile which states ‘I authorise DWP to view my accounts, including job search activity, feedback and notes’. 
 
If you wish to completely close down your UJ account you will need to use the Contact Us facility within the service and ask for your account to be terminated.  
  
DWP Central FoI Team”

For all the latest Universal Jobmatch details (and much more including your rights on the Work Programme) visit: http://consent.me.uk/

* Of the 1,267,245 Universal Jobmatch accounts it is unclear how many of these are Jobseekers Allowance claimants.  Registration to the site is open to anyone so it is likely many of those accounts do not belong to current claimants.

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Universal Jobmatch – The Brutal Farce at the DWP Continues

UPDATE 27/2/13:  Registering an account with Universal Jobmatch will  become mandatory from the beginning of March 2013.  There should still be no requirement to tick the box giving DWP access to your account.  For the latest details and what this means for claimants keep an eye on:  http://consent.me.uk/universaljobmatch/

The DWP’s obsession with forcing unemployed people into endless, and often pointless, work related activity, is set to reach new heights when Universal Jobmatch is launched next week.

According to the DWP the service is a: “new, free, online job posting and matching service for companies and jobseekers.”  Run by private company  Monster Jobs, the site will replace the previous online job search facilities provided by the Jobcentre.

Despite earlier denials from the DWP that unemployed claimants will be not forced to sign up to the new site, it now appears as if registering will be mandatory (as the above picture reveals).  Claimants will be expected to sign away their rights under the Data Protection Act and hand a vast amount of personal detail over to the DWP, who can them pass the information onto anyone they choose.  The legality of this is unsure, as is how and when sanctions might be applied – keep an eye on the internet for new developments.

Jobcentre advisors will have full access to personal accounts, meaning they can check on all activity, snoop on job applications, cover letters and CVs as well as ‘suggest’ job vacancies.  Failure to act on the DWP’s suggestions will lead to benefits being sanctioned.

When Universal Credit is eventually introduced, unemployed people will be expected to spend 35 hours a week on ‘work related activity’ (otherwise known as looking for a job).  Millions more people who are self-employed or in part time work, including even single parents,  will be expected to constantly look for more or better paid work as a condition of in work benefit entitlement.  Sick and disabled claimants in the Work Related Activity Group will also be expected to look for work or face benefits being stopped.

If the practice of mandatory sign up to the service continues, then millions of people could be forced to sign away data protection rights and allow DWP officials to have full access to their online job search activity.

Concerns have been raised that this new system will be used to enforce the 35 hours a week job search rule, with DWP officials monitoring time spent on the website, or the numbers of jobs applied and searched for.  Claimants could be forced to waste both their own and potential employer’s time by sending in endless applications for jobs they are not qualified for.  Job Seekers could feel compelled to spend hours on computers pointlessly clicking their way round the site in the hope of demonstrating job seeking activity.

So far it is unclear exactly how any monitoring will take place.  With DWP staff under constant pressure to sanction benefit claims it is far from unthinkable that a lack of Universal Jobmatch activity will be used as an excuse to stop benefits.   From now on Jobcentres will not just compel claimants to look for jobs, but may compel claimants how they should look for jobs.  Jobcentre’s have a notoriously desperate track record of actually helping people find work, but still claimants will be forced to abandon their own initiative and follow the diktats of DWP staff.

The DWP are triumphantly announcing that the new service will allow job seekers to access job search via their smart phone, or wireless connections.

Once again the clueless DWP is assuming that people living on £70 a week –  or less for those under 25 – all secretly have iphones and superfast broadband.  For the impoverished few claimants without the latest gadgets, they claim that internet cafes can be used to access the new mandatory service.

Internet cafes can cost between £1 and £3 an hour depending on where you live.  Even if unemployed claimants – who are increasingly being pushed into using food banks for survival – can afford to spend half their income on internet cafes, these are not secure environments for revealing confidential personal information.

This  Government’s willing ignorance when it comes to personal online security is likely to lead to identity fraud on an unprecedented scale.  Those with little knowledge of computers will be vulnerable to having their entire identity stolen by any dodgy bastard who hangs around internet cafes offering to ‘help’ people access benefit services.  And that’s before the site inevitably gets hacked and millions of people’s personal information is placed in the public domain.

The problems with Universal Jobmatch don’t end there.

Other recruitment agencies are hardly likely to hand over all of their vacancies to Monster Jobs.  It is likely many will boycott the site completely – meaning there could be even less jobs on the new scheme than the pitiful amount available under the old.

There even seems to be potential for the site to be used by stalkers, abusive ex-partners or loan sharks to track people down.  Employers, of any size, will be able to select candidates for job vacancies who will then be compelled to apply or face sanctions.  Whilst personal details are to be anonymised, this still means any employer could for example gain the details of every unemployed teaching assistant in the local area (or people with even more specific skills/qualifications).  If the employer informs the DWP they want to interview these people then claimants will have no choice but to send in applications complete with personal details.

According to a must read article published on the Open Rights Group website, potential ’employers’ will only be asked to provide a verified post code and phone number to gain access to the service.

Like so many of Iain Duncan Smith’s crazy schemes, Universal Jobsmatch is not just draconian, but fucking stupid.   It is also likely to be expensive.  Whilst poor families are being socially cleansed from big cities and disabled people face brutal benefit cuts, the DWP is throwing money around like confetti on endless reforms which are doomed to disaster.

For more details on Universal Jobmatch, and many other areas of data protection laws relating to claimants visit:  http://www.consent.me.uk/

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Lord Freud Doesn’t Know How Much JSA Is!

Lord Fraud, the comedy toff who also happens to be Minister for Welfare Reform, doesn’t even know how much the weekly unemployment benefit  Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) is worth.

Speaking recently to the Work and Pensions Select Committee the former banker stated:

“the JSA amount is £64, or whatever the precise figures is.”

JSA is £71 for those over 25 and £56.25 for younger people.

Lord Fraud’s  staggering ignorance of the benefits system is far more telling than often repeated stories about out of touch ministers not knowing the price of a pint of milk.  Lord Fraud has been involved with welfare reform since 2006 and is currently attempting the biggest changes to the benefits system since the birth of the Welfare State.

Had he actually been doing any real work then it might be expected that the basic facts about the most common benefits would be burnt into his brain.  After all, it is his fucking job to know these things.

It comes as no surprise that this inept clown should not even bother to learn anything about the very benefits he is tasked with reforming.  After all  Lord Fraud himself has admitted: “Nearly everything I’ve done has been total chaos.” 

Jokes have been pretty thin on the ground at the DWP since the departure of the Chris Grayling comedy show.  It appears however that Lord Fraud is only too keen to step into his bungling, bull-shitting shoes.  Sadly for the millions of people who will see lives and incomes devastated due to welfare reform, Lord Fraud’s incompetence will be anything but a joke.

Long Term Unemployed People Cost Less Than Queen!

Benefit bashers are likely to be shocked that the annual cost of the Queen dwarfs the amount spent on benefits for long term unemployed people – but the figures reveal it to be the truth.

In January 2011 just 4,200 people had been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for over 5 years, representing 0.3% of the total number of unemployed claimants and costing around £14 million a year.  Astonishingly Britain’s biggest benefit scrounger, the Queen, costs over £38 million a year, almost three times the amount spent on long term claimants.

The total annual cost for long term claimants per person is staggeringly low, at just 28 pence – less than a penny a week.  Whilst every penny does indeed count at the moment, is this really worth the endless hours spent deriding and denouncing benefit scroungers?  You must be a right tight-arsed bastard if you think so.

Cunning Daily Mail readers will be quick to point out that this figure does not include Housing Benefit, the benefit which is used to subsidise the buy to let industry.  But even if every claimant were claiming Housing Benefit, and not all are, they still wouldn’t cost as much as the Queen.  And the Queen lives rent free in a fucking palace which occupies a huge chunk of some of the most valuable real estate in the world.  And she’s got a castle and a train*.

Even those unemployed for over two years do not particularly cost tax payers much money.  The latest figures reveal that 117,000 people have been claiming Jobseekers Allowance for over two years.  This costs around £400 million a year, or £8 each.  Add Housing Benefit to the mix and the long term unemployed probably cost everyone about a quid a month.

Clearly not everyone who has been unemployed over two years is a scrounger, but it’s probably fair to say that all scrounger have been claiming for over two years – after all if you can’t last two years on Jobseeker’s Allowance than your approach to being feckless and lazy is somewhat, well a bit feckless.

Even if half that figure are actively avoiding work then benefit scroungers cost less per month than a copy of the Daily Mail.  The truth is that long term unemployed people represent a varied group of people, many of whom have lives that few would envy.

A surprising number of street homeless people are long term claimants of JSA.  Many more long term unemployed people have mental health conditions.  A few are indeed addicted to alcohol or drugs,others will have criminal records.  By and large these people are not a group that employers are rushing to hire.

By far the largest group of long term unemployed people however are those living in areas of high unemployment where there simply aren’t any jobs.  Visit any centre for unemployed people and you will find scores of people who are looking hard for a job, any job, but they just aren’t there.

As people become older and out of work for longer the difficulty becomes even more pronounced.  Despite this government handing hundreds of millions to private welfare to work companies, there is barely any quality training available to long term unemployed people.  Private sector parasites running the Work Programme hoover up the cash and fob people off with pointless motivation workshops or mock interviews.  Try asking if you can train to be a plumber or gas fitter and they will barely contain their laughter as they hand you a three month old newspaper.

Jobseeker’s Allowance is just £70 a week.  Most people only claim for short periods in between jobs.  Some find it harder to find work and are on the benefit longer than others.  Many people who are vulnerable, homeless, unwell, or whose lives have collapsed around them depend on JSA to survive.

All are human beings.  All are someone’s son or daughter, quite possibly someone’s mother or father or even just someone’s friend.  Many are unofficial carers or volunteers, some aspiring musicians or artists, some involved in local politics.  Everybody has value and at a quid a month then the benefits system, which provides this protection for the long term unemployed,  is good value for everybody.

*Campaign group Republic estimates that the true cost of the Queen, when security and other expenses are taken into account, is £200 million a year.