26 April 2014

DWP have no idea if Workfare costs jobs or not

The DWP know that "work for your dole" schemes  such as the  "Community Work Placements" starting next Monday could tempt rogue employers to replace paid staff and get free labour. They tackle this by having "strict" guidelines that paid jobs must not be displaced.

But do they do any research, auditing or enforcement of the rules? No, they don't and that's official. I know because I asked them via some Freedom of Information requests and they have now admitted they don't know saying "the Department does not hold the information you have requested"

So if you lose your job because your employer has recruited someone via the Jobcentre who must work 30 hours a week for 26 weeks or lose their benefits, you'll know why. Your former employer doesn't even have to pay them their £71.70 a week, the taxpayer does that. From the taxpayer's point of view, it's worse than that - in most cases, a "provider" gets thousands for arranging it all.

For story of how DWP ducked and weaved to avoid revealing this outrageous nonsense, see my earlier post 

UPDATE January 2015: Related post about how they appear to do things better in Ireland

12 April 2014

Falling between ESA and JSA is possible

[Originally published 8 Feb 2014] 
In the UK, there are two main welfare benefits for people of working age. Simply put, JSA is for people who are able to work but can’t find any while ESA is for people too sick to work. In theory, everyone is covered by this system but I’d been hearing reports of people falling through a gap between the two benefits. People not sick enough for ESA but too sick to claim JSA. Here’s a typical story:

Government benefit changes meant he was assessed for the new Employment and Support Allowance in October. But on October 29 his £124 a week payments were stopped because he was assessed as ‘fit to work’ and told to claim Jobseekers Allowance.

“But when I went to the Jobcentre, the man there looked at me and said ‘I can see you’re clearly not fit to work’ and wouldn’t allow me to claim,” he said. “What was I supposed to do?”

I thought this couldn't possibly be true and the Department for Work and Pensions are with me on this:

“a person cannot be in a position where they are ineligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and not fit enough to meet the conditions required for claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA)" https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/claimants_not_eligible_for_esa_o

To find out the truth I submitted a "Freedom of Information" request to the DWP via the What Do They Know site. You can't really ask "Is this true?", you have to exploit your right to access recorded information, basically, documents they already have or can easily knock together. 

So my request:
  • Set out the alleged "problem"
  • Commented that since the problem was serious, the DWP would probably have produced guidance for staff and carried out research on the issue
  • Asked for documentation on the research and guidance
You can see my full request, subsequent correspondence and the "answer" here but you might find my analysis an easier read
  • So far as I can see, they haven't done any research - perhaps they now will?
  • They have eventually come back with some "new" guidance about ESA to JSA Transitions I call it "new" because at the time of writing,  Google can only find it via my FOI request. Let's pick out some bits of that guidance:

23. Although suitable work and jobsearch activities are diagnosed for claimants with health conditions or disabilities, under no circumstances should an opinion be expressed about whether that health condition means they are capable of work, or not. That decision has already been made by a Decision Maker, based on evidence supplied by a medical expert.

  • This item means that no JCP member of staff should tell a claimant they are too sick for JSA. However this guidance is somewhat buried and staff could easily be unaware of it. Let’s hope it’s easily and frequently accessed by JCP staff on an internal system.

24. If the claimant questions whether they are fit enough to work, it should be explained to them that while claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, they have to be actively seeking and available for work. If they do not feel that they can meet either of these requirements, or cannot agree the types of jobs they will look for and the activities they will undertake to do so, the claim cannot be continued.
  • Even if challenging the Work Capability Assessment (that stopped their ESA) as many do with eventual success doesn’t automatically stop a claim for JSA, this seems likely to trip up many claimants. Their options seem limited to destitution or agreeing to actions that they believe they are incapable of
  • This second "choice" is particularly poisonous. Not only does it place the claimant at risk of failure and sanctions,  they have been “forced” to lie to the JCP staff which even if undetected damages the relationship and possibly the mental health of the more vulnerable. 
  • There is another, less obvious hazard. If the claimant goes on JSA and subsequently has more than 2 periods of sickness or periods of sickness exceeding two weeks, their JSA is stopped. Normally, a JSA claimant could fall back on ESA but "passing" the Work Capability Assessment within the last 6 months bars that unless the original illness has worsened considerably or they have a brand new one. This is particularly likely to snooker somebody with a variable illness or disability such as Bipolar Disorder. 


1. Claimants are likely but not certain to fall between the two benefits
2. The DWP have no idea how prevalent this is
3. Even if the claimant successfully navigates from ESA to JSA, further illness could easily knock them off benefits altogether.

Bluntly, the story about the disabled man in Gloucester could well be true and if it isn't, that more by luck than DWP effort.

PS 20/06/14: This briefing from Citizens Advice includes stories from their case-load of people falling between the two benefits.