Iain Duncan SmithStefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The caring, sharing coalition is gearing up for a crackdown on benefits claimants, with a new regime coming into force in October next year which will keep an eye on whether benefits claimants are making enough of an effort to get a job.

If the authorities deem that the individuals aren't getting their finger out sharpish, they could lose their benefits for up to three years.

The current system

At the moment, those who are receiving Jobseekers' Allowance have to demonstrate that they are looking for work - either by actively searching, or by going to 'job-focused interviews' at the Jobcentre. The jury is out on how useful jobseekers find these interviews, and how much they have to put into a search in order to be deemed to be making enough effort to find work.

Even if they fall foul of this system, and fail to get out of bed for an interview, the sanctions vary between losing benefits for a week, or three weeks, or nothing at all. It means that in practice there are plenty of people getting by without making any real effort at all.


Recent reports in The Guardian showed that in the first four months of the government's Work Programme, 110,000 were referred for sanctions because they failed to put the effort in. However, Jobcentres only agreed to benefit cuts in 40,000 cases.

New system

The idea is to introduce something along the lines of a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. The first time the claimant refuses to comply with the rules they will lose their benefits for 13 weeks. The second time they break the rules, they will lose benefits for 26 weeks. If they then break the rules again within a year they will lose their benefits for three years.

Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, told the Telegraph that the idea was to form a kind of contract where both the unemployed individual and the government had a responsibility to keep their end of the bargain. He said: "We will pay their benefits and they will in turn prove that they are doing all they can to return to the job market. People will now know without a doubt that if they don't comply with the rules, they will not get their benefit. We need a sanctions regime that is clear and robust."

Why?

It's the latest in a barrage of initiatives from the government trying to get people back into work, and cut the welfare bill. It comes hot on the heels of David Cameron's major speech on reforming welfare, where he raised expectations for those applying for benefits.

He said at the time: "The last area for debate is about what we should expect from those receiving benefits. For example, it is still possible to stay on benefits for years without gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills. But isn't this something we should expect of people, considering these skills are almost essential to getting work? Bizarrely there is also no requirement to have a CV. But shouldn't this be the very thing that's asked of people before they even walk into the Jobcentre?"

He also raised the possibility that the government would: "introduce a system whereby after a certain period on benefits, everyone who was physically able to would be expected to do some form of full-time work helping the community, like tidying up the local park."

Worries

There are those who are concerned about the driving forces at work here. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:"If this is the future direction of welfare policy it leaves in tatters the PM's pledge to be the most family-friendly government, to make progress on child poverty and to ensure the greatest burden of deficit reduction falls on the broadest shoulders.

"With the numbers claiming unemployment benefit still rising, it's time this government rolled up its sleeves and got to work on the millions of jobs and the millions of affordable homes Britain is lacking. It beggars belief that British people were able to do this after the Second World War when our debt was far worse, but today we are told we must cut instead of build."

So what do you think of the planned changes? Let us know in the comments.



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