Thousands of disabled people to be forced into unpaid work


Thousands of disabled people are set to be forced to do unpaid work in order to continue receiving their out-of-work benefits, despite the government’s own benefits advice body saying the scheme should not go ahead.

The government introduced new rules this week which will give Jobcentre Plus advisers the power to force claimants of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) onto new “mandatory work activity” placements.

Participants will be expected to spend up to 30 hours a week for four weeks on the “placements”, which will be introduced from next month and delivered by “contracted providers”. Those who fail to comply could lose their JSA for three or even six months.

The government’s own equality impact assessment says 10,000 people a year are expected to be forced to take part, with more than a quarter likely to be disabled.

But the social security advisory committee (SSAC) said it was concerned that the scheme appears to punish claimants just for displaying “the wrong attitude”, while taking part could actually reduce their chances of finding paid work.

It is the third time in just over a month that SSAC has criticised key parts of the government’s welfare reform agenda. Last month, it delivered a scathing assessment of the work capability assessment and the government’s disability living allowance reforms.

The committee said those forced to take part in the placements would be those who had done “just enough to satisfy the conditions of entitlement to benefit” but had – in the opinion of Jobcentre Plus – “little or no understanding of what behaviours are required to obtain and keep work”.

The committee said the government’s own evidence shows disabled people are among those who would find it most difficult to take part in such unpaid work activity, and so were more likely to face losing their benefits for failing to comply.

And it said it was concerned that there was no procedure for monitoring whether providers running the schemes were exploiting claimants.

Disability Alliance (DA) said increasing numbers of disabled people would be found “fit for work” through the government’s welfare reforms, and so could be subject to the placements.

Neil Coyle, DA’s director of policy, said it was “essential” that reasonable adjustments were made for disabled people on the scheme.

He said there were increasing reports of disabled people – such as those with mental health conditions – feeling they had to comply with strict conditions imposed on their benefit entitlement, despite the risks to their health.

The government rejected seven of SSAC’s 18 recommendations, and partially accepted two, while it rejected the recommendation that the scheme should not go ahead. It promised “robust monitoring” of placements.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said the scheme was “designed to give people that extra push to make sure they are really keeping active and focused on what it takes to get into work”.

15 March 2011