Universal credit sanctions regime to be tightened in Jeremy Hunt’s ‘back-to-work’ Budget

Union criticises ‘worrying’ move, as jobcentre staff to be trained ‘to ensure they are applying sanctions effectively’

Andy Gregory
Saturday 11 March 2023 23:14 GMT
<p>Jeremy Hunt will announce a new raft of plans aiming to get more people into work</p>

Jeremy Hunt will announce a new raft of plans aiming to get more people into work

The universal credit sanctions scheme is to be tightened in a new push by Jeremy Hunt to get hundreds of thousands of people into work, prompting concern among campaigners.

The requirement for benefits claimants who are lead carers of children to search for work are also to be strengthened, as part of a raft of measures the chancellor will announce this week in what he has branded his “back-to-work Budget”.

In an overhaul the government claimed was “the biggest reform to the welfare system in a decade”, the Work Capability Assessment – described as flawed by campaigners – is also to be axed.

The government will also start paying childcare costs on universal credit up front, rather than in arrears, while the maximum amount people in receipt of benefits can claim for childcare will be increased by several hundred pounds.

While the proposals to ramp up the use of sanctions were branded “worrying” by Trades Union Congress general secretary Paul Novak, he hailed the greater childcare support as “long overdue”.

“Scrapping the work capability assessment will be welcome if it means an end to assessments that cause anxiety instead of helping people achieve their aspirations,” he added, while urging greater investment in public services to get people off NHS waiting lists and reduce barriers to training.

James Taylor of the disability equality charity Scope said axing the assessment was “the minimum change needed to even begin improving a welfare system that regularly fails disabled people”, and stressed the need for “a more person-centred system” offering “specialist, tailored and flexible” support.

“Those that want to work should be supported. But for some, that’s not an option and disabled people shouldn’t be forced into unsuitable work,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do for the government to restore trust in our benefits system.”

Hundreds of thousands of people will be forced to attend more regular jobcentre meetings, according to the government

Under the plans, jobcentre staff will be given additional training “to ensure they are applying sanctions effectively”, while administrative elements of the sanctions process will be automated, including messages to claimants who miss meetings in order “to reduce error rates”, the government said.

Hundreds of thousands of claimants will be told to attend more regular meetings with work coaches, with “skills bootcamps” to be expanded by 8,000 places per year by 2025, up from 56,000, the government said.

The minimum amount a person can earn without being required to attend regular jobcentre meetings will be raised from the equivalent of 15 to 18 hours of earnings on the national living wage, while rules enabling those whose partner is in work not to attend meetings will be scrapped.

There are currently more than 1 million job vacancies in the British economy, with one fifth of the working population unemployed and not looking for work, the government said.

While unemployment is close to a record low of 3.7 per cent, Office for National Statistics data shows that the number of people out of work due to long-term illness is at an all-time high of around 2.3 million, following the emergence of Covid-19.

“Those who can work, should work because independence is always better than dependence,” said Mr Hunt, adding: “For many people, there are barriers preventing them from moving into work – lack of skills, a disability or health condition, or having been out of the jobs market for an extended period of time.

“We need to plug the skills gaps and give people the qualifications, support and incentives they need to get into work,” the chancellor continued. “Through this plan, we can address labour shortages, bring down inflation, and put Britain back on a path to growth.”

Labour’s shadow work and pension’s secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said “the Tories are following our lead”, adding that families are “struggling after 13 years of Tory economic failure”.

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