Published in InterAction 77 (Autumn 2011)
New work programmes have been introduced that could affect you if you claim certain benefits, says our Welfare Rights Adviser Sarah Lawrence.
The Welfare Reform Bill, which will have its next reading in the House of Lords, Tuesday 13 September, introduces a number of reforms including the unification of working age benefits under Universal Credit. Before this bill is enacted, a number of Get Britain Working measures have already been introduced and a new Work Programme has replaced existing employment schemes.
Get Britain Working measures may be offered by Jobcentre Plus before someone is required to take part in the Work Programme. The Government has said that Jobcentre Plus staff will have more responsibility for assessing an individual’s needs. The support that will be offered to people claiming out-of-work benefits is described by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as being ‘flexible.’
Get Britain Working measures include:
- Work Together which aims to encourage unemployed people to take part in voluntary work
- Work Clubs which aim to offer mutual support and skills sharing to unemployed people
- Work Experience for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants aged 18-24
- Enterprise Clubs which aim to offer help to unemployed people with an interest in becoming self- employed.
Participation in Get Britain Working is voluntary for people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Incapacity Benefit (IB) and Income Support (IS) but, in some cases, once you have volunteered to participate attendance becomes mandatory, so get advice before volunteering.
There is also an Enterprise Allowance which can provide business mentoring and financial help for people who want to start their own business but this will only be available to people who have been claiming JSA for six months or more.
These initiatives were being rolled out from June 2011 but not all may be happening in your area and eligibility criteria varies. Jobcentre Plus district managers have the discretion to decide what to offer in their region and will respond to what is needed at a local level.
Mandatory work activity
Probably the most controversial measure introduced by the bill is mandatory work activity. New regulations came into force in April that mean people claiming JSA can be put forward for a mandatory work activity placement by their Jobcentre Plus adviser.
They will have to take part in the placement 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.
At present there is little detail about the selection process and Jobcentre Plus staff have discretion about who they put forward.
On the DWP website it says: “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.”
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, including the claimant’s physical or mental health.
The Work Programme has replaced existing back to work schemes such as Pathways and is being delivered by organisations contracted to do so by Jobcentre Plus.
These contractors (predominantly private sector companies, such as Serco and G4S) will subcontract to a range of smaller private or voluntary organisations at a local level. The Government says they will have the flexibility to offer the support most suited to the needs of individuals. This means that it is hard to know exactly what will be on offer and the options available and the quality of support will vary from area to area.
You may have to take part in the Work Programme if you are receiving JSA or ESA. See table one (p 11) for referral times.
The Access to Work scheme will continue to run and this can help if your health affects the way that you are able to do your job. It may be able to assist with things like transport to work, specialist equipment etc. Work Choice helps disabled people whose needs cannot be met through other work programmes, Access to Work or workplace adjustments. This might be because you need more specialised support to find employment or keep a job once you have started work.
The impact on you
If you are in the Support Group for ESA you will not have to attend a work-focused interview or other work-related activity.
People on ESA who are in the Work-Related Activity group will be expected to participate in a work- focused interview and may have to participate in further work-related activity.
The DWP has said that ESA and IB claimants will have an initial New Joiners work-focused interview at which the adviser will explain the conditions of entitlement, establish job goals and any job-search activity, assess the claimant’s needs including challenges they face in returning to employment, discuss support options with the claimant, develop an action plan and offer further flexible advisory interviews based on need.
People claiming JSA will be subject to many more compulsory measures in connection with seeking employment.
Table one: referral times to the Work Programme
|Custome groups ||Time for refferal |
|JSA customers aged 25+ ||From 12 months |
|JSA customers aged 18-24 ||From nine months|
|JSA formerly on IB ||From three months |
|JSA seriously disadvantaged in the labour market ||From three months|
|All ESA customers ||Voluntary at any time|
|ESA (income related) customers who are placed in the Work Related Activity Group ||When customers are expected to be fit for work within three months|
|IS and IB customers ||Voluntary at any time |
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