Mandatory Work Activity: extended sanction abuses
By now we have all heard about the series of articles in The Guardian about benefit sanction targets. The upcoming 4 week compulsory employment programme called the Mandatory Work Activity scheme is an extension to sanction powers of Jobcentre Plus Employment Officers. Ipswich Unemployed Action has already spoke about the Mandatory Work Activity scheme.
Not that Jobcentre Plus ever thought this underhand practice would be exposed: they created the Mandatory Work Activity scheme to make further “savings” to the “public purse”. This could now be forced to be prematurely scrapped as I explain to you what the Mandatory Work Activity is really about.
No surprises that it is really to screw you jobseekers over (including the new JSA claimants forced over from disability benefits).
Unlawful Sanctions describes it as “bribes for benefit savings”. DWP set up a tender with a unit cost benchmark of £800 per person – successful providers are those who get the cheapest cost per head. This is done by a contract value organised by how many starts (i.e. total value / starts = unit costs). Providers specify how many people they are willing to take as they calculate how much minimum they require. This payment is paid upfront regardless of a start or not.
When the Work Programme Network announced the “workfare providers” they branded this the “sham scheme”. It is of no coincidence how everything is so conveniently perfect for this (well almost, the Work Programme Network has already found a loophole in the law which will be published in May 2011).
The three main elements:
- Eligibility solely on Jobcentre Plus adviser/Employment Officer discretion at any time in the claim
- Sanctions raised from 2 weeks to 13 weeks for the first offence and appeal timescales are just 5 days
- There is nothing stopping someone being repeatedly placed on Mandatory Work Activity (other than being on another employment programme such as the Work Programme)
This is undeniable proof of the intention of increasing benefit sanctions:-
- The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee thinks that due to the high proportion of Jobcentre Plus adviser sanction doubts overturned by Appeal Tribunals that adviser discretion should be limited not increased. (Of course the alternative option means such benefit sanction targets would have to be more open, perhaps written into regulations – this opens the scheme to too much scrutiny)
- DWP have once again refused to set in stone what the “placements” should contain. They have been kept sketchy for some reason despite thousands of complaints on New Deal, Flexible New Deal and Community Task Force. (Of course they cannot state how meaningless it will be)
- They favoured this over the Work for Your Benefit pilot scheme so they can evaluate such after the 4 years it runs for, instead of after the first year of a pilot scheme. (If they made it a pilot scheme it would be pulled)
- The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee asked if it would be possible for someone to be referred for the third or fourth time, with the answer of “yes” although they made assurance of it being unlikely. This means such person would have had at least 6 month of benefit sanctions at that point. They also asked for guidance of the scheme where none was provided claiming it wasn’t finalised.
So adding up the pieces… it is the providers who are to be deciding how many workfare placements there are in the first year. DWP set an initial budget of some £8m for 10,000 placements at £800 each. We anticipate the bids under half so the initial budget will create approx 20,000 placements – but I suspect the budget to be increased when benefit savings are made.
How are referrals made? Whether Employment Officers are set targets like their benefit sanction targets of how many people to refer on to Mandatory Work Activity by Jobcentre Plus working out the number of placements or whether they will refer on the fly finding whether or not a place if available, is unknown. The latter sounds too disorganised, creating concerns of targets of referrals and therefore benefit sanctions
What are the payment terms? Providers are paid per referral not taking account of whether they do 4 weeks, leave half way through or not start. Seems a big waste of money, of course it is not if it is a bribe for a benefit sanction.
Can vexatious or malicious referrals occur? Indeed they can – and will. Numerous referrals too.
Why can you not understand it is a work placement not a sanction scam? Well… if a sanction of 13 weeks is caused; such claimant who is deemed necessary to have such experience of work discipline is not asked to do “balance of time” and the provider keeps the full amount for the 4 weeks without any further service delivery to that person. However, second (etc.) sanctions are 26 weeks if within a year of the first sanction of 13 weeks. For a latter sanction to take place the person would have to be referred back to the scheme (i.e. after 3 months). If the need for that person to be referred to such scheme to meet such objectives is so significant then “balance of time” should be as mandatory as the scheme itself, especially that such claimant may receive hardship payments and the taxpayer should be getting value for money with such payment spread out over the 4 weeks paid on attendance.
Some interesting quotes….
4.5.2 Sanction periods
If a customer is deemed to have acted in a way that could give rise to a benefit sanction as defined in 4.5.1, a referral to a Decision Maker would be made for a decision as to whether or not a sanction should be applied to the customer’s Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Sanctions will increase in length for second or subsequent breaches.
The sanctions will be of the following duration:
(a) thirteen weeks removal of Jobseeker’s Allowance for a first act or omission;
(b) twenty-six weeks removal for a second transgression leading to a failure determination which is made within 12 months of the first Mandatory Work Activity sanction starting to run.
4.9 Requirement to complete Mandatory Work Activity
Once a customer has been sanctioned for actions relating to Mandatory Work Activity, they will not be required to complete the balance of four weeks on the placement.
The scheme has been designed in this way to reinforce to customers that they should take the opportunity to participate in Mandatory Work Activity seriously, and cannot disengage and re-engage as it suits them.