The writing is on the wall for jobseekers. The Coalition is removing the safety net from people who have come to depend on it. A fraction of people will benefit from tough love, the rest have identified unconsciously that they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. So they don't.
George Osborne's Spending Review reinforced this message. While congratulating Iain Duncan Smith for his hard line reforms within the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Osborne added some extra weight to the sledgehammer being used to crack the benefit dependency nut:
Seven Day Signing On Period
Taking away the right to sign on for seven days from the start of unemployment is a gimmick that adds nothing to promoting employment as an option or reducing the benefits bill. It’s a crowd-pleaser with the British public still largely support the demonisation of benefit claimants, which I recently heard described as something akin to the hate-driven spirit of pre-war Germany.
The problem is that with funding and budgets as they are, fixed term and zero hour contracts are increasingly the norm so jobseekers won't risk a change that could leave them without any income at all. Jobseekers who do take and keep a job for six months or more will wonder what they were paying tax for, if it isn’t to support them when a contract comes to an end.
Weekly Sign On
Despite slashing the budget at the DWP, civil servants will now police claimants weekly, not fortnightly. Either Osborne thinks Job Centre staff don’t have enough to do or he thinks jobseekers are busy earning on the side and need their time tied up further to minimise how much they defraud the State. This reinforces the message that whatever jobseekers are getting up to, they won’t get away with it much longer.
With the brandishing of more stick like this, things could get easier for the likes of Clean Slate. Jobseekers may choose to work with a social enterprise offering a mutually beneficial partnership when we help them find some work. From what we’re seeing, however, claimants may opt out altogether and either put up with increased interference from the Job Centre or sign off, regardless of whether they have work or not. And those who sign off may automatically appear in statistics as having found employment.
Communities and Local Government Loses 10% of Budget
In the West of England, Clean Slate is commissioned through one of the local authorities supporting work with people with histories of homelessness, offending and mental ill-health, etc. The cut to the CLG’s budget will mean more bad news for councils who have already tightened their belts and so the axe swings again over the services remaining to support claimants. The Government thinks this will drive efficiencies but the view from the ground is that jobs will be spared at the expense of frontline services.
The Review announced Council Tax will stay frozen but automatic relief for people who out of work or in poverty has already been abolished this year. Osborne’s been careful to distance himself from this by devolving to local authorities how Council Tax Support is applied. Some are absorbing the cost of continuing 100% relief, some are charging people but choosing not to chase any non-payment, while others are now charging everyone at least a proportion of the full amount.
Costly Cuts, Not Cost Cutting
So, what if? What if jobseekers are digging their heels in even deeper? What if they know the regime is getting tougher so feel they’re probably better off if they do nothing? This is consistent with the cynicism Quids in! readers sometimes express about switching energy suppliers.
It seems this is exactly what’s happening. There is no appetite to try something new or settle for anything less than a cast iron offer of full-time, permanent work. Anything else is perceived to be too big a risk. Far from ‘inspiring’ people to be enterprising or take a punt on any kind of work, the Government may find jobseekers are more, not less, likely to hold fast.
As with the false economies attached to much of welfare reform, the Spending Review may defeat itself. There will be increasing evidence that the cutting has failed to even save money as costs go up in terms of people winding up in mental health services, drugs and alcohol support, on the street or in temporary accommodation, or in the criminal justice system.
This isn’t 1930s Germany and it’s about time we saw some public protest against blaming minorities and scapegoating the poorest in our society. Social injustice is deeply un-British and deserves our abject contempt, especially when the economics doesn’t stack up.