Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1093/30995
'Conditionality' returns to DWP
Benefits system being used to force return to unsafe workplaces
A Jobcentre worker
As previously reported in the Socialist, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which oversees the payment of unemployment benefit to millions, had previously eased the requirements for claiming Universal Credit. This involved removing the obligation for claimants to sign a "claimant commitment", outlining how they would spend up to 35 hours a week looking for work.
From July, as the government looks to increase the number of people attending Jobcentres, the claimant commitment is to be phased back in.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents tens of thousands of staff working on the benefits system, has written to the DWP to challenge this reintroduction. The DWP has replied that it is under orders from the Tory government.
When pushed on how claimants could be expected just to revert to 'business as usual' in the current state of economic dislocation, the DWP merely answered that Work Coaches - staff who work in Jobcentres - had 'sufficient flexibility' to take the Covid situation into account. What exactly this 'flexibility' was, the DWP did not elaborate.
Members of the PCS Broad Left Network, in which the Socialist Party participates, are actively preparing material to be sent out to Work Coaches. It will advise on giving maximum support to claimants and how to avoid 'sanctions' - the stoppage or reduction of a claimant's benefit for some perceived infraction of the complex rules of the system.
In-depth academic studies have proved that sanctions do not work, most recently in 2018 from the multi-university Welfare Conditionality project. The United Nations and others have decried them as 'human rights abuses', and there is a well-established link between strict benefit conditionality and reduced mental health, as already vulnerable people are subjected to intense stress to participate in programmes or apply for jobs, the suitability of which is doubtful.
Amid this economic crisis, a trade union-led campaign to increase the money paid through benefits to the level of a living wage, and to root out of the system all vestige of sanctions, is sorely needed.
Trade unionists need to ensure that no one is forced back into workplaces that are not safe and do not have safety measures fully implemented to stop the risk of the spread of Covid-19. We must oppose the benefit system being used to force workers into unsafe workplaces.
Reopening Jobcentres: Don't risk claimants' and staff safety
The PCS union will be put to the test over the DWP management's plan to bring people back in to attend face-to-face appointments in Jobcentres. Claimants will be pressured to attend despite the safety risks posed to members and claimants.
This is likely to come to a head in the next few days. The union must actively resist this pressure to open the doors - except for continuing to give help to the most urgent cases who cannot be dealt with in any other way.
If management ploughs ahead without our agreement, the union must organise members to refuse to compromise their safety in opening the doors.
Socialist Party members in the PCS
In The Socialist 1 July 2020:
No going back
What we think
Lessons from history