27 May 2011
Sarah Lawrence, Action for M.E.’s Welfare Rights Adviser, writes:
On 25 April new regulations came into force that will affect some people claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). The regulations introduce a new scheme called the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme (MWA).
People who are put forward for this scheme by their Jobcentre Plus adviser will have to work for up to 30 hours per week for a four week period.
They will continue to receive their benefit without any other financial incentive and will still have to seek work. As yet it is very difficult to know who will be selected and we have yet to see how this programme will work in practise. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who is selected to participate in the programme.
The fear is that with many people failing to satisfy the Work Capability Assessment, (the new test used to determine whether someone is fit for work) some sick and disabled people may have no alternative but to claim JSA.
There is then the risk of being required to participate in MWA.
At present there is little detail about the selection process and Jobcentre Plus staff have discretion about who they put forward.
On the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) website it says that from 17 May:
“Jobcentre Plus advisers can refer jobseekers that need additional support to get back to work onto mandatory work activity. Where advisers believe a jobseeker will benefit from experiencing the habits and routines of working life, they have the power to refer them to a four week placement.
“This could be in a wide range of roles, including doing maintenance work for housing residents, renovating and recycling old furniture, working in a local sports club or supporting charitable organisations.
“The scheme, which will be delivered by a range of organisations from the private, voluntary and third sector has now started in London, the East and Yorkshire & the Humber and will be available throughout the country by the beginning of June. “
If claimants refuse a placement or fail to complete one without good cause they may have their benefit sanctioned for up to 13 or 26 weeks.
In the DWP decision maker’s guidance, it states that if a claimant has failed to participate in the scheme the decision maker must take into account the circumstances of the case and this includes the claimant’s physical or mental health condition.
It goes on to say that claimants would have good cause for giving up their places if it would have - or would have been likely to have - put their health and safety at risk if they had continued to participate in it.
A Social Security Select Committee report recommends that MWA is not implemented and raises a number of concerns in their report to the Secretary for State.
It says that MWA is designed to target the small number of people who are doing little to comply with the requirement to actively seek work. The committee is concerned at the lack of detail available about the nature of the placements and believe that the quality of provision may vary.
A further concern is the amount of discretion given to the personal adviser and worries about people still having to seek work whilst participating in these placements. They also comment on the severity of the sanctions. They recommend that if MWA does go ahead, three key recommendations are implemented, based around the selection of participants, placements and sanctions.