Hardworking families are now being targeted by the government’s vicious benefit sanctions regime, a major new study has found.
As well as finding that vulnerable unemployed people are being made into paupers – with some turning to crime to feed themselves or keeping their children off school because they can’t afford the bus fare – the University of York-led research found that Universal Credit (UC) benefit sanctions are now hitting working people.
This month the government will extend its trial of “in-work conditionality” rules to more than 15,000 low paid workers across the UK, before the full UC system is rolled out by the end of parliament.
Under the measures UC claimants who are working up to 35 hours a week are forced to seek more hours or an extra job. If they do not comply with the demands they face sanctions to their in-work benefits.
Respondents to the 480 person survey who have experienced in-work conditionality, branded the process “dehumanising” and “intimidating.”
Part-time caterer Mark, 50, was interviewed for the economic and social research council funded study, which will continue until 2018 and is believed to be the largest of its kind, after he was made to participate in an early trial for the new measures.
‘I felt criminalised’
He said, “The moment I walked into the jobcentre, I felt criminalised. It was as if I’m signing up to prison or something.”
Mark’s comments reflected the sentiments of other in-work UC claimants interviewed for the study, who were resentful at being treated as if they didn’t work for a living.
The research also found that in-work conditionality requirements were interfering with the jobs claimants already held, as they were forced to attend jobcentres during working hours. In addition, the study showed that in work sanctions produced disincentives to finding new employment.
Unite Community Chesterfield branch secretary and Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre co-ordinator, Colin Hampton, said the government should be penalising unscrupulous bosses rather than working people.
“The trend to push people into low paid, low hours work were people need top ups on their wages, now means the government is coming down hard on those people, as well as those who are out of work. This proves the brutal sanctions regime is an attack on all poor people, regardless of their employment status,” Hampton said.
Forced into low paid work
“It’s outrageous that people are forced into low hours and low pay employment and then punished for it, when the system encourages employers to implement those practises.
“There are no sanctions on employers who are able but refuse to offer full time positions to people who want them. The onus is always on the worker, while the employer gets away scot free.”
As well interviewing in work UC claimants, the researchers spoke to jobseekers, single parents and disabled people from 10 UK towns and cities. The results highlighted the unrelenting cruelty of benefits sanctions and the increase in debt, evictions, stress and ill health they bring about.
“I can’t afford to eat at the moment,” said one single mother. “[My son] eats my food.”
Another man kept his daughter off school for two weeks, because he couldn’t afford her bus fare or lunch money, whilst a homeless man was forced to steal.
“I got a sanction for not going to an interview. I got sanctioned for a month… It made me shoplift to tell you the truth. I couldn’t survive with no money,” the homeless man told researchers.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said in-work conditionality rules were the latest in a long line of Tory initiatives aimed at dismantling welfare safety nets, working conditions and employment rights.
“Unite has consistently argued that we need a benefits system that enables people to live with dignity, works to end poverty and works hand in hand with the creation of decent work for all.
“So-called ‘in work conditionality’ underlines the urgency of this need,” Turner said.
“This government is determined to destroy our benefits system. Important blocks have been put in their path by the Labour opposition – we need to keep the pressure on to bring further halts to the damage the Conservatives are wreaking.”