Poll findings suggest jobcentre staff focus on enforcing sanctions over support

The constant threat of benefit sanctions makes it harder for a majority unemployed people to find appropriate jobs, new research suggests.

Polling of people who are out of work and receiving Universal Credit showed 61% strongly or somewhat agreed that they were less likely to form a supportive relationship with jobcentre staff due to their focus on enforcement.

For those polled with a health condition or disability, the proportion rose to 69%, with 7% disagreeing.

The findings from polling of 768 claimants, which was commissioned by think tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF), emerged as the Government is set to increase earnings thresholds to include more claimants in the intensive work search (IWS) regime for the lowest earners.

The Government’s impact assessment of the changes found 110,000 more claimants will be brought under the stricter conditions, having previously been subject to a “light touch” approach.

It adds the changes will also result in more people who are awaiting a work capability assessment being brought into the IWS regime.

“Like any other claimants in IWS, if claimants with a health condition or disability fail to comply with work-related requirements without good reason, they will be liable for a sanction,” the impact assessment said.

Planned changes to requirements are also expected to “encourage” 700,000 Universal Credit claimants who are “lead carers” of children to look for work or increase their hours, the Government has claimed.

In other findings from the poll, 63% of claimants said the threat of sanctions had a negative impact on their mental health. This rose to 73% for those living with a health condition or disability.

Three-quarters of those polled said their first Jobcentre meeting was focused on the rules they must follow and the expectations they had to meet, while 59% felt Jobcentre staff wanted to get them into any job as quickly as possible, regardless of how appropriate it was.

A NEF report published on Wednesday called for a “new relationship” between jobcentres and Universal Credit claimants, with the current focus on “requirements and punishment” replaced by “shared accountability”.

Head of social policy at NEF, Tom Pollard, said: “An obsession with applying stringent and prescriptive conditions to job seekers, backed up by the threat of sanctions, is harming their efforts to find appropriate and secure work.

“Demanding compliance from people means they end up jumping through hoops rather than finding jobs that are a good fit for them. This is particularly important when so many people who are out of work face additional barriers such as health conditions and disabilities.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Politicians need to help reset the relationship between the Jobcentre and people out of work, to focus on engagement and support rather than compliance and punishment.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Sanctions are designed to encourage people to meet certain commitments, preparing them for workplace responsibilities. Most claimants agree this makes them more likely to look for work or take steps to prepare.

“They are only applied if claimants fail, without good reason, to meet the requirements they agreed to.

“The vast majority of sanctions are applied due to claimants failing to attend mandatory appointments and can often be resolved quickly by the claimant re-engaging with the Jobcentre and attending the next appointment.”

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