Low paid workers in receipt of the housing benefit element of Universal Credit will have to attend interviews with Jobcentre Plus aimed at reducing reliance on benefits or face sanctions.  A trial will take place from April this year aimed at the 15,000 current recipients of Universal Credit.  Currently people who are not in work and are in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance are sanctioned if they are not deemed to be doing enough to find work.

According to ministers, benefit sanctions are supposed to be an option of last resort, however, not doing enough to find work can include being late for an interview with a Jobcentre Plus adviser and many have reported being unfairly and unreasonably sanctioned.

There are obvious concerns about this policy, not least the unreliable nature of many modern day employment practices, such as zero hour contracts and the likelihood of missing an interview with Jobcentre Plus due to being asked to work at late notice.  There are also concerns that people already struggling to make ends meet and living in in-work poverty will end up with rent arrears.

Many people in the UK report being underemployed – unable to find a job with full-time hours and recent research has shown that employing people on zero hours contracts is increasingly a tactic employed by many employers who want to keep wage costs down.   Part-time work and self-employment have grown hugely in recent years.

The UK Government points to falling unemployment figures as proof that its economic strategy is working, despite criticism that it low pay is a recovery “built on the backs of the working poor”.  Many have no choice but to take up part-time work or face sanctions.  Researchers have found that others have disappeared from the unemployment register, without taking up employment, leading to concerns that the current regime is driving people off benefits.

A Commons Select Committee recently took evidence from Government Ministers on sanctions, asking repeatedly whether there had been research into the impact that imposing sanctions would have on claimants.  A transcript of the session can be found here.

Source: Inside Housing